End the Filibuster Now!

FilibusterThere is a story that is probably apocrypal that The Clash drummer Topper Headon told Joe Strummer, that if he (Headon) weren’t in the band, he might be able to kick his heroin addiction. So Strummer fired him.[1] The point of the story is something along the lines that Headon was asking for some bitter but necessary medicine. Although I doubt that was the right medicine for the situation, I think it is often the case that good behavior is encouraged by a lack of options. For example, being ugly makes monogamy much easier.

I bring this up because of the Senate filibuster. It will eventually be eliminated. And it must be. This has nothing to do with partisanship. The Senators simply cannot control themselves when it comes to this minority tool. Just look at this graph:

Filibuster by Party

There is a psychology to this. When Republicans are in the minority, they push up the use of the filibuster. When the Democrats are in the minority, they tend to continue filibustering at the previous Republican level. This will not end. But even more important, I believe the Republicans have now taken the filibuster to the point where it cannot get worse without effectively shutting down the Senate. And that means that the moment the Republicans are in the majority, they will end the filibuster.

I’ve argued this before. But what I think is important now is that the Senate has become post-norm. It has become all about rules. The filibuster is from a time when norms ruled—when a handshake agreement meant something. But now, we have a Republican Party that will do anything the rules allow. And we have a Democratic Party that accepts whatever the Republicans do as the new normal. There is no way that this gets wound back up.

For the good of both parties, we must remove the filibuster temptation. It is like a drug. And that is especially true of the Republicans. What’s more, it impedes their efforts at reform. As long as they can get their way with dwindling minorities (this goes along with gerrymandering and voter-ID laws), they won’t worry about appealing to the majority. We must end the filibuster.


Norm Ornstein wrote an article over at National Journal, Parties Prepare to Reverse Rhetoric on ‘Nuclear Option’ for Judicial Nominees. He argues that the best thing would be for the Republicans to return to regular order. I agree! My problem is that this kind of pie-in-the-sky talk only delays the inevitable. The Senate cannot handle the power of the filibuster. At some later time when normal order has returned, then the Senate can look at using the filibuster. But now it is all bad.

[1] This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Headon was a member of the band through its most popular period. Financially, he was set up for life. On the other hand, Strummer was kind of an asshole, and it does sound like him.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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