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New Filibuster Rules Could Lead to More of the Same Ineffective Congress

Despite promising for more than two years to reform the rules regarding the filibuster, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – NV) has settled on a gentlemen’s handshake agreement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY) to try to speed up Senate business.

A change to the rules of the World’s Most Deliberative Body reduces the time after a cloture vote until a final up or down vote will take place and lessens the time required to consider judicial and cabinet appointees, but the key elements of the much pledged reform did not materialize.

As it stands in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, almost every piece of Senate business now requires a super majority of sixty votes in order to end debate and move to a final vote. This is unprecedented in Senate history, as the filibuster was such a rarity that it was worth making it the climax of the famous Jimmy Stewart movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Nowadays, the ultra commonplace filibuster has lost a little luster.

Imagine how dramatic that film would have been if Mr. Smith never had to stand up on the floor and speak, and could have instead just had his party’s leadership announce that some anonymous Senator objects thus requiring sixty votes. Not exactly riveting movie material, is it?

The proposed changes to the Senate rules would have ended the possibility of anticlimactic inaction by requiring that the Distinguished Senator who objects actually announce his or her disapproval and come to the floor to tell the C-Span audience their reasoning, or read from the dictionary, or what have you. It is worth noting that no one was suggesting that the filibuster should be scrapped altogether, which would have been a possibility.

The Democrats would not want to dispose of it entirely, because their majority could be fleeting and keeping it around for use in extreme cases is the last resort of the minority party.

What this reform was meant to do was to reduce gridlock by giving Senators a disincentive to simply object to every simple matter along party lines, by forcing the uncomfortable action of actually standing up and being recognized for one’s positions. Failing to manage meaningful changes to the Senate has congressional observers shaking their heads and the majority of Reid’s party expressing their disappointment.

If you enjoyed the last two years of a historically ineffectual Congress, get ready more of the same.

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