Friday, December 31, 2010

Fix the filibuster

If there's a debate in the Senate and there's nobody talking, is there any noise? The US Senate has a long tradition of allowing unlimited debate but over time this tradition has been perverted: in today's Senate, Senators can filibuster without ever debating. And it's being increasingly abused: there have been more filibusters in the last 4 years than between 1920 and 1980.

The worst abuse of the filibuster is the "secret hold" where one Senator can secretly block the Senate from doing its business. This has been used to block legislation as well as presidential nominations from being considered. It has no place in a democratic society: if a Senator objects to a bill or a nomination but wants to remain anonymous, tough. They were elected to represent the people of their state and the people have a right to know what they're doing.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) is on the right track. The Senate should adopt rules that preserve the right of Senators to debate legislation and curb the abuse with two simple steps:
  • Ban secret holds.
  • Require actual debate.
Of course the details here matter, because if anyone is good at finding and exploiting loopholes, it's politicians. So I hope the Senate keeps it simple. Honest, constructive debate — yes; obstructionism — no.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog