Tuesday, July 03, 2007Let me start by saying that I like the filibuster. The ability to extend debate means that the minority cannot simply be silenced, and while it has in many instances served the forces of illiberalism, on balance I believe that it has done more good than harm. The filibuster is, after all, the chief distinguishing characteristic between the House and the Senate.
Having said that, I think that it has quite clearly been abused as of late. Republicans in the Senate have embarked on a strategy in which no bill, no resolution, nothing can come to a vote without 60 votes. Because of the malapportion of the Senate, this means that a tiny percentage of people can block the will over the bulk of the country.
The justification for the filibuster is that the minority can demand a supermajority on issues that are extremely important to them, that are of vital interest. A majority should take due note of such intense passions.
But the filibuster doesn't work that way any more. Now it has become simply routine. Republicans do not filibuster important issues, but every issue. The result is that after an election in which their policies have been utterly repudiated, the conservatives still have a veto (even in the legislature) over what the American people do.
What is to be done? I think the challenge is to make sure that the Republicans play a price for blocking popular legislation. At present they vote how they like, even on Iraq, expecting that they will never suffer for it. By the time the next election comes, the issue will either be forgotten or subsumed.
I think we should have a real filibuster. No "tracked" filibusters in which other legislation can move. Bring up the bill day after day, demand vote after vote, wage a war of attrition on issues like Iraq. Doing so would highlight the seriousness of the issue, exhaust the minority, and just maybe divert the media from Paris Hilton.
Next: Why the filibuster doesn't seem to work for Democrats.