In an opinion editorial for the Columbus Dispatch on May 22, 2010, I argued that Republicans should support changing Senate rules to disallow filibusters. When the new Senate convenes on Monday, Democrats will still be the majority party. With a much slimmer margin, however, will they still try to change the Senate rules?
During the health care debate, liberal columnists, bloggers, and interest groups advocated changing Senate rules to limit use of the filibuster. These politicos grew frustrated at Republican senators' ability to block, frustrate, and tame the agenda laid out by President Obama in his 2008 campaign. Reasonably, therefore, Democrats began to question the wisdom of Rule 22, the Senate rule that allows filibusters by requiring 60 votes to end debate on a bill.
Paul Krugman, in a February 7, 2010 editorial for the New York Times, argued that “the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government;” therefore, Senators should “recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster.” Ezra Klein, writing for Newsweek on March 27, 2010, decided that Rule 22 is “no longer appropriate given the polarizing realities of our politics.” Liberal blogs ProgressiveCongress.org, CredoAction.com, ActBlue.com, and DailyKos.com have all taken up the cause of filibuster reform. You can go to their websites and sign a petition calling for reform.
Tom Udall (D-NM) has led the charge for filibuster reform in the Senate with committee hearings on the topic. He also has Tom Harkin on his side, who last tried to change the filibuster rules, along with Joe Lieberman, in 1995 while Democrats were in the minority. Dick Durbin and Carl Levin are also rumored to support reform.
Harry Reid, who had opposed any changes to the filibuster when Republicans wanted to ban its use for judicial confirmations, said in a March 10, 2010 press conference, Democrats are “going to take a look at the filibuster,” and, “we are likely to have to make some changes in it, because the Republicans have abused that....” Would Reid still support changes to the filibuster if Democrats were in a position to abuse it?
In an strange twist, Jack Conway, the Democrat's US Senate nominee in Kentucky, had a campaign ad asking, “can you imagine adding Rand Paul to the 'party of no'? We need filibuster reform.” Did he want you to vote for him, or support filibuster reform because he expected his opponent to win? If Conway had won, would he still support reform, or would he think it unnecessary without Paul in the Senate?
Some liberals, such as Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, have suggested that the filibuster should remain to stop legislation that liberals would not like. This type of short-sighted thinking makes filibuster reform difficult. Senators should consider what is best for the Senate in the long term, not what is best for their party in the short term.
Democrats are correct to support changing Rule 22. By empowering every Senator with the ability to stall or halt legislation, Rule 22 has made the Senate dysfunctional. Hopefully, Democratic defeats in the 2010 elections will not dissuade them from pursuing reform.