Our View: Give us real filibusters

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 4:41 PM

Editorial Board

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to end the silent filibusters that have put a choke-hold on much of that body’s legislative business. Current rules mandate that 60 votes are needed to move virtually all Senate business through. Under current rules, the minority party can invoke a "filibuster." We put that word in quotes because today’s "filibuster" is not really a filibuster. There’s no Jefferson Smith — memorably portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" — ceaselessly talking on the floor to prevent what he perceives as injustice, or a bad bill.

Instead, "filibusters" are procedural motions in which senators can stall a bill without being forced to filibuster. Instead, they can go on FOX News or other cable news channels and pontificate about how they are using that time-honored procedure of integrity, the filibuster. This farce has been going on for a long time; both parties have used the faux filibuster.

Reid is correct to want to reform the filibuster. However, ending it would be a big mistake. We reject rules that would end a filibuster by requiring a simple majority vote. Instead, senators who want to use the filibuster as a political weapon should be forced to really filibuster. They should have to talk constantly, around the clock, on the Senate floor — with full TV coverage — for as long as one senator, or a team can.

By all means pass that reform, Sen. Reid. Call it the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Filibuster Reform measure. Besides making it far more difficult for senators to filibuster (they’d have to miss all that face time with Sean Hannity) the entire nation would be provided a dramatic lesson in civics, watching our elected officials either provide cogent arguments for the filibuster, or as time goes on, start reciting pages from the Old Testament, and so on.

Restoring a traditional filibuster will get more legislative business accomplished. And, to Republicans who will grouse that Reid and the Democrats only want this reform because they control the Senate, yeah, that’s true. But one day the GOP will control the Senate, and when that happens the new rules will bite Reid and other Democrats in their political rear ends.

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