NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

It’s done! Senate Democrats have – at long last – voted to implement filibuster reform

After years of talk, filibuster reform has finally become a reality.

Today, the United States Senate took a huge and momentous step towards becoming a more democratic body. By a vote of fifty-two to forty-eight, senators voted to change Senate rules to abolish filibusters of executive and judicial nominations, except Supreme Court nominations.

The move means that Republicans will no longer be able to prevent President Obama’s nominees from receiving a vote on the Senate floor.

“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid declared before the vote, on the floor of the Senate. Aware of what was about to happen, nearly every senator was in the chamber, giving Reid and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell an unusually large live audience.

“The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken. And I agree,” Reid added.

At the White House, President Obama took to the podium inside the James M. Brady Press Briefing Room to praise the vote, saying the time had come for reform.

“I’m a former senator. So is my Vice President. We both value any Senate’s duty to advise and consent. It’s important, and we take that very seriously. But a few now refuse to treat that duty of advise and consent with the respect that it deserves.  It’s no longer used in a responsible way to govern. It’s rather used as a reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt. And that’s not what our Founders intended, and it’s certainly not what our country needs right now.”

“Public service is not a game,” the President added. “It is a privilege. And the consequences of action or inaction are very real.”

“The American people deserve better than politicians who run for election telling them how terrible government is, and then devoting their time in elected office to trying to make government not work as often as possible.”

Angry Republicans promised that Democrats would “rue the day” they decided to take a stand in favor of making the Senate operate more democratically.

“You’ll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” fumed Mitch McConnell, who only a few years ago, in concert with Bill Frist, was on the verge of engineering a vote on a similar rules change. McConnell has previously said if Democrats voted to limit the filibuster, his caucus would do away with it entirely if they regained the majority. Of course, further limiting the filibuster would actually allow majority rule to prevail more of the time, which would be an improvement.

Republicans are correct that Democrats have used the filibuster to block nominees before, most recently George W. Bush’s. But Democrats’ use of the filibuster – and every previous Senate’s use of the filibuster – pales in comparison to Republicans’ use (or abuse) of it, as this chart from Senator Harry Reid’s office shows:

Filibuster abuse in context

Republicans’ unprecedented obstructionism has hurt the United States of America. Something had to be done. Our founding fathers believed in majority rule. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton both wrote in The Federalist that majority rule was key to a functioning legislative body. Majority rule goes hand in hand with minority rights, of course. But we have the Constitution to protect minority rights. The filibuster is not in the Constitution. It’s only in Senate rules.

If Republicans wanted to keep the filibuster, they could have, by not abusing it. But they do not believe in the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency and do not want him to be able to fill vacancies on our courts. Their position is ridiculous, outrageous, and unacceptable. Today’s vote ensures they will no longer be able to prevent the Senate from providing advice and consent when the President nominates someone to serve on his team or serve as a judge in our federal judiciary.

This is a great day for America. We at NPI applaud this historic vote and thank our Pacific Northwest Democratic senators for being a part of it. As a result of the courage of Senate Democrats, the Senate will begin to function more like a real legislative body again. More filibuster reform is needed, but today’s rules change is so very welcome. Kudos to Senator Reid for putting it together.

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