By Senator Jeff Merkley.
If you are as frustrated and angry as I am about the abuse of the filibuster to block good legislation, I invite you to add your voice to the petition I'm launching to reform the filibuster.
Last week, the Republican Minority Leader and 40 of his Republican colleagues sent a letter vowing to block every bill until the Senate passes bonus tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. These Republican obstructionist tactics are nothing new in the Senate. The last two years they've made it their #1 priority to prevent the Senate from functioning by blocking countless judicial nominations and bills from even being debated before the American public.
The Senate, which was once referred to as the “world’s most deliberative body,” has since become a dysfunctional institution where blocked bills are more common than bills enacted into law. At the heart of Senate dysfunction lies the filibuster – a tool that was once used rarely and is now regularly abused to effectively grind all three branches of government to a halt.
When many Americans think of the filibuster, they recall the scene from the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where Senator Smith attempts to prove his innocence by holding the Senate floor until he eventually collapses from exhaustion.
The Senators who have been filibustering non-controversial nominees and bills for the last several years are nothing like the courageous Mr. Smith. In today’s Senate, a member can block the Senate from voting on a bill or even bringing it to the floor with a 20 second phone call to a clerk. They don’t have to stay on the floor and defend their actions in front of the American people, or even reveal their identities - they can pack up their things and go on vacation if they want to.
Come January, my friend and colleague Senator Tom Udall will be introducing a resolution for the Senate to consider new rules, and we need to use that opportunity to bring democracy and accountability back to the Senate.
Make no mistake - this is an uphill struggle. There are plenty of people in Washington who like being able to preserve the status quo with only 41 votes in the Senate. The only way we're going to prevail and change the rules is if the people demand change. That's why I've started a petition calling on the Senate to make three common-sense changes to its rules so that we can fix the filibuster and do the work the American people elected us to do:
Make the filibuster real. If one or more Senators wants to filibuster a bill, they should be required to hold the floor and fight for what they believe in.
Don't give Senators multiple chances to filibuster the same bill. In recent years, Republicans have regularly filibustered routine parliamentary steps, even on measures that ultimately pass almost unanimously.
Bring fair deliberation back to the floor of the Senate. Ensure that Senators of both parties have the chance to offer amendments and have those amendments voted on without giving any one Senator veto power.
We all know that America is facing a number of big long-term challenges -- from backbreaking unemployment to record foreclosures that are destroying communities across America. If the Senate can’t pass bills, it’s not the Senators who will pay a real price – it’s the American people. We're seeing the consequences of Senate inaction as 2 million jobless Americans lost their unemployment benefits last week because Republicans blocked the unemployment insurance bill. We have to end the abuse that is undermining the will of the American people, and putting the livelihoods of working families at risk. Please join me in the cause to fix the filibuster.