Editorial: Filibuster reform might be fun, but ineffective

2012-12-31T09:15:00Z Editorial: Filibuster reform might be fun, but ineffectiveCorvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
December 31, 2012 9:15 am  • 

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley says it’s time for the U.S. Senate to overhaul the filibuster, the legislative maneuver through which a single senator can paralyze the Senate.

Merkley told The Oregonian last week that the Senate tradition needs to be reformed because it’s become too easy for a senator to bring business to a standstill by resorting to the filibuster. Once invoked, the filibuster can only be stopped through a cloture vote, requiring 60 votes before business can proceed.

The solution proposed by Merkley and other senators harkens back to the Jimmy Stewart classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in which Stewart’s Sen. Jefferson Smith embarks on a historic filibuster, talking on the Senate floor for 24 straight hours in hopes of exposing Senate corruption.

Oddly enough, actual U.S. senators hated the movie when it was released in 1939, but even though it continues to have a hold on our sense of how the Senate operates, it was inaccurate even then: A senator doesn’t need to be speaking on the floor to invoke a filibuster. As Merkley notes, senators have all sorts of tools at their disposal to delay or block bills, and they often can do so anonymously.

That’s why Merkley is among the senators backing a proposal to change the filibuster process. The heart of the proposal: If senators want to filibuster, they need to actually filibuster, which is to say, they need to be yakking away on the Senate floor.

We like the proposal because it could be fun, especially in these days of C-SPAN; if a senator decided, for example, to pass the hours by reading a bestselling book, why, that would be just as good as an audiobook.

But Merkley’s fooling himself if he thinks filibuster reform will make much of a difference in the Senate.

In part, one of the reasons we have the Senate is so it can kill bills; it should be hard to get legislation through the Senate. That’s why we don’t particularly fret that the current Senate has passed only about 2.8 percent of the bills introduced in that chamber, a record low.

And truthfully, it’s hard to imagine that procedural reforms would make much of a difference in today’s hyper-partisan environment.

The increasing use of the filibuster is a symptom of a deeper issue. Until voters finally get the message through to senators that we elect them in part for their ability to reach across the aisle, to form consensus around vital legislation, you won’t see much change in Congress – regardless of whether senators are reading aloud the family-friendly parts of “Fifty Shades of Grey” on the Senate floor.

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. andyg
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    andyg - January 02, 2013 10:28 am
    Always a joy to hear from the anarchists.
  2. Austin
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    Austin - January 01, 2013 6:25 pm
    It is the intention and it is proper that the houses move slow in what they wish to impose upon we the people! Those who think lobbyist run the show should be the most pleased in the filibuster for it prevents a 1 person majority in the senate from scr*wing us more than they already do! Make the lobbyist buy 60 people rather than 51…it’s much harder to do.

    Those that believe making it easier to ram cr*p down our throats ought to remember that someday the ‘other side” will have control and can do the same damage. Maybe if the houses spent more time and energy working on real problems and crafting real solutions---not those that insure their re-election--- filibusters wouldn’t be the norm. Both sides are only promoting more government and thus more control. Why hand it to them? See how well they have handled it so far? Crying about taking more money from the private sector to “shore-up’ outrageous overspending and then, in the middle of this charade they give themselves a raise !
  3. TheRealJules
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    TheRealJules - December 31, 2012 3:24 pm
    "Those who have invoked the filibuster over 300 times in the past four years do not wish the business of our nation to go forward but for the government and its people to fail."

    When you write that kind of stuff, are you smirking because you think you'll convince anyone that it is true, or do you truly believe this yourself?

    I shouldn't have to point out the vast difference between hoping that someone who is trying to implement policies that will truly harm the country as a whole fails to get them implemented, and hoping that the people of the country fail. I shouldn't have to point that out, but it seems I do.

    The Republicans are hoping that policies that will harm this country do not get passed. That's nothing even remotely close to hoping that the people of this country fail; in fact, it is quite the opposite. It is a fair question to ask why you feel that we should be running down the road to serfdom by handing more and more power and control of daily life to the government.

    It's interesting to read the claims that our congress is in the pockets of the lobbyists, and yet we should happily allow congress to pass laws that add to the federal burden upon us all. It sounds almost as if those people want the corporations to be in charge. And, of course, every attempt at getting the people who claim that there is rampant bribery to actually produce the evidence instead of simply continue claiming it exists falls upon deaf (or incapable) ears.
  4. Kenny D
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    Kenny D - December 31, 2012 1:31 pm
    Amen.
  5. andyg
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    andyg - December 31, 2012 1:23 pm
    Methinks the term "today’s hyper-partisan environment" gets bandied about by the media a bit too glibly. I don't think most of us are all that partisan on most of the issues. What we have instead is a hyper-lobbied Congress awash with campaign contributions that gets tied up in knots. One tool to counter-act that is to reform the filibuster. Another is to put limits on campaign financing and provide alternatives for campaigning.
  6. occupystephanie
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    occupystephanie - December 31, 2012 9:57 am
    With all due respect, the filibuster is more of a blunt instrument designed to obstruct the business of the Senate rather than a symptom of American division. Those who have invoked the filibuster over 300 times in the past four years do not wish the business of our nation to go forward but for the government and its people to fail. It is not governing.
    To suggest that it is a good thing for the government not to pass legislation is to deny that our nation's problems have grown exponentially while ideological hardened positions have prevented actual governance which could arrive at compromise and resolutions.
    Senator Jeff Merkley deserves Oregonians' support as he exemplifies what it means to be a servant of the people. More power to him!
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