On Thursday night Majority Leader Harry Reid showed how big his bolas are, by using a rare parliamentary move that stopped Republicans from filibustering a bill that hopes to force China to raise its currency. Republicans were threatening to filibuster the final vote, even though a bipartisan group of Senators already voted to have the final vote.
The small group of Republicans that were going to use the filibuster was not even on the final vote but the votes on the amendments before it. It would have been another example of Washington not able to get things done because of politics. The Republicans who wanted to use the filibuster here should be thanking Reid for saving them from looking like fools. Senators from both sides would have been on TV saying how much they want to stick it to China while those Republicans on the Senate floor would be talking nonsense. But there are plenty of examples that can be used of Democrats in the minority doing the same thing. This action should be used to start a process that gets rid of the filibuster altogether.
Politico reported that “While the rules change may not seriously affect the substance of pending legislation, the process employed by Democrats could be replicated in the future to overhaul bedrock rules like the filibuster. For that reason, both parties have tried to avoid employing such tactics to change the rules over the last several congressional sessions, including in a fierce 2005 battle that nearly limited the use of the filibuster.” But with the frustrations that are pouring themselves in front of Wall Street, the Capitol, and across the country, it is about time something changes in Washington.
Sometimes the filibuster has been used by the minority to appeal to their base, where in case Americans who do not want to see the legislation passed are happy to see the filibuster take place. But this is still always a small constituency. This allows Senators to debate things they know has no chance of passing. So why have the debate? Because it appeals to their base and is something the Senator can say they did when they ask for their constituencies vote in the next election. When George W. Bush wanted to pass immigration reform, the Senate debated for hours on what to do but could only agree that English should be the official language of the country. But both sides liked the debate so leaders let it happen. If the filibuster did not exist though, more votes would have been taken putting members on the record, which is something they did not want to do. If the filibuster was not part of Senate rules members would have been forced to take a vote.
It is also fair to argue that without the filibuster more Americans would pay attention to what their Senators are up to. Since Senators are up for reelection every six years, they can usually take controversial votes without having to worry as much about political consequences because voters get their frustration out during the election the vote took place in. The Senate though does not always have to take these votes because someone usually filibusters it. But if there are large amounts of legislation that come to the floor and controversial votes pile up, more news would be written about it and Americans would pay attention. If the Senate decided to vote on privatizing Social Security, and there wasn’t a filibuster for someone to stop it, think about all the calls and letters that would fill their offices.
Maybe more importantly, better legislation would actually be voted on in the Senate. Getting rid of the filibuster would not make politicians want to take controversial votes, so theoretically, there would be less of them. That means less politics and more compromise. No Child Left Behind was a controversial bill that not everyone was in favor of, but it had a large amount of representatives on both sides who voted for it. That makes it a lot harder for it to have been a issue for a competitor to bring up in the next election.
It is true that the founding fathers wanted the Senate to be a place where cool heads would prevail. That is why they set it up so Senators were not even elected but instead appointed by state legislatures. That changed of course when the legislatures could not decide on who to send to Washington. The filibuster is not even in the constitution, it is just a Senate rule. Politics are inherent in any government, and that’s OK, sometimes it is even a good thing. But when it is time for things need to get done, more times than not the filibuster has been used to protect a small minorities interest rather than deciding what is good for the country as a whole.