Filibuster Reform At Last?

Filibuster Reform At Last?

Why the next Congress should alter this outdated and anachronistic tool.


Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the  Read all of Katrina’s column here.

As the lame-duck session drew to a close, progressives were reminded of the capacity of Congress to accomplish important things but also of what we are giving up as a new session begins. In the House, Democrats have lost their majority, and will be dealing with the possibility of John Boehner and Eric Cantor wielding their new power to do real harm and undo real progress. In the Senate, Democrats will maintain their majority, though that may be little consolation. With a loss of five Democratic Senate seats, the caucus finds itself seven votes—and many miles away—from the ability to stop the filibuster.

Considering the damage the filibuster has done over the past two years, our new circumstances are, indeed, distressing. Back when Lyndon Johnson was majority leader in the Senate, he needed to file for cloture to end a filibuster only once. During President Obama’s first two years, Harry Reid filed for cloture 84 times. To put that in perspective, the filibuster was used more in 2009 than in the 1950s and 1960s combined.

Even as we acknowledge the progress we’ve made these past two years, we must never forget the policies that lie dead on the Senate floor at the hands of the filibuster. We got a Recovery Act, but a filibuster prevented it from being sufficiently large. We got healthcare reform, but a filibuster killed the public option. We got Wall Street reform, but a filibuster killed provisions to break up the big banks. We got an extension of unemployment benefits, a payroll tax cut and more, but the threat of the filibuster killed our chances to do that without giving handouts to the wealthy.

That is an impressive, albeit decidedly mixed record of two years when Democrats held 58 to 60 Senate seats. Undoubtedly, in the years when they have only 53 seats, the record will be bleak.

That is, unless we reform this outdated and anachronistic tool. 

Editor’s Note: Read all of Katrina’s column here.

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