U.S. Senate leaders had a chance last week to fix something that routinely gums up the works in their chamber, but they blew it. The filibuster lives.
For all their tweaking of Senate rules, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have little to show for their professed desire to dismantle one of the greatest inhibitors to passing bills in Congress. As a result, Democrats, while controlling 55 of 100 seats, still do not have enough power to behave like a majority. Republicans, with 45 lawmakers, can project strength well beyond their standing as a minority.
All that senators agreed to do was to make modest changes to the rules, so that the majority will lose some of its power to keep the minority from amending bills on the floor. At the same time, the minority will give up a method that lets them kill bills before they can come up for debate. Members of both caucuses will have greater ability to propose changes to bills, which they say their own leaders sometimes prevent them from doing.
The change, for whatever good it will do, will last only two years and is fraught with loopholes. In the end, the minority party, in this session the Republicans, will still be able to hold up bills and demand that they get 60 votes for passage. And that’s all without having to explain why to the public, or to force one of its members to speak non-stop on the Senate floor as in days of old.
If Senate leaders truly wanted to fix the filibuster, they would have abandoned the requirement for this super-majority vote — which is no doubt unconstitutional — on virtually every bill and presidential appointment.
Common Cause, the good-government lobby, said this wasn’t reform but “capitulation.” Senator Reid, who could have held out for real change, fell far short.