The Time To Fix The Dysfunctional Senate Is Now!

I would like to tip my hat to Ezra Klein for using the weekend to put out a whole series of articles addressing just how broken and dysfunctional our Congress has become. It is an issue that never seems to get enough attention but underlines almost every problem with our current government. He does interviews with Sen. Jeff Merkley, Sen. Tom Harkin, SEIU President Andy Stern, and UCLA professor Barbara Sinclair. The abuse of the filibuster has completely broken our government.

The filibuster has morphed dramatically over the years. For the first few years of the Republic, a filibuster was in impossible in the Senate. Even when it was “technically” possible, the filibuster was not once used for the first several decades. Eventually, the filibuster began to be used with no way to stop it. To solve the problem, the Senate added a 2/3 cloture rule of those voting. The rule went through several changes until we got the current 3/5 of sworn-in senators requirement in 1975. Throughout most of its history, the filibuster was a extremely rare tactic used by the minority party. Now its abuse has effectively ruined the Senate by imposing a defacto 60-vote requirement for anything to move.

The one issue where I strongly disagree with Klein is in his, “After health-care reform, Senate reform” article. Effectively what he is saying is that our effort on health care reform has been ruined by the terrible unconstitutional rules crippling our Senate, but we should still reward this behavior by pushing to pass the bill anyway. Despite attacking the filibuster, Klein is nevertheless enabling it by endorsing the broken legislation it produces.

To paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, you should never let a good crisis go to waste--and what you have is a great crisis of Senate rules on the issue of health care reform. Some of the most popular provisions (public option, repeal of anti-trust exemption) have majority support in the Senate, but not super-majority 60-vote support. An institution like the Senate will not change without a serious crisis, and now seems like a great time to force a resolution on the matter.

By effectively saying “it's ok if the filibuster ruins another important bill this time, but we really should think about fixing this in the future,” you take all the wind out of the push for Senate reform. After this bill is passed nothing else controversial will be addressed until the next election. Without the destructive power of the filibuster in everyone's face every day, the push for Senate rules reform will again fade from the media's consciousness. The Senate will not change if we ask politely. It needs to be dragged kicking and screaming to the reform.

If I could, I would gladly trade the failure of this Senate health care reform bill for eliminating the filibuster, once and for all. I know without the dysfunctional Senate ruining everything, the health care reform bill we would eventually get would be dramatically better. Any health care reform bill passed with a constitutional simple majority vote in 2010 or 2012, would probably be dramatically better than this current bill, and start helping Americans even sooner (before 2014). People with power (Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln have all been given unprecedented power because of the abuse of the filibuster) will not just give it up without a fight. You need to push, push, and push some more until they are so backed into a corner, they have no other option but restore the constitution in the Senate. If you refuse to push now, when will you get a better chance?

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