Don’t kill filibusters — make them real again

  • Updated: July 15, 2013 - 6:40 PM

Filibuster reform is desperately needed, but not the kind of reform that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are sparring about. What is needed is a return to the filibuster of Senate tradition as depicted by Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — and as so aptly demonstrated this summer by Wendy Davis in the Texas state Senate.

I’m referring to actually talking. The filibuster as structured today in the U.S. Senate has careened so far from that original tradition that it is not even recognizable. Richard A. Arenberg warns against using the “nuclear option” by quoting Lyndon Johnson’s defense of unlimited debate (“Filibuster go boom? Not a smart move,” July 15).

Seriously? What debate? The filibuster has devolved to the point where the minority kills a bill simply by announcing an intention to filibuster. There is no debate.

Until recently, the purpose of the filibuster was to give voice to the minority in a dramatic way. A senator could passionately call attention to his or her position. That was a good thing. Wendy Davis was not able to kill the anti-abortion legislation before the Texas Senate, but she was able to bring it to the attention of the entire nation and to inspire tens of thousands of Texans to raise their voices against it.

So it should be again. It should not be possible to kill a bill by means of filibuster. Senators should be required to hold the floor and talk themselves hoarse in front of the entire nation. (C-SPAN would have a field day.) The effect would be a much-needed two-edged sword, because the people would be watching. A senator who would stand against an unpopular or ill-conceived bill, as Bernie Sanders did, would come out all the more popular — while a senator who dared to block a popular and needed measure such as a jobs bill would only, in the end, subject himself to ridicule.

The Reid-McConnell discussion on “Meet the Press” last Sunday did not even come close to the real problem. Neither has any comment in the newspaper or anywhere else. Reid is pussyfooting around a minuscule change that would merely allow the president to make some appointments, and McConnell is talking about a “tradition” that never existed.

Serious change is needed, and as ironic as it is, that change is not really change at all. It is merely a return to what always was.

David M. Perlman

 

The writer lives in New Hope.

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