07 Dodo BritLet’s be bluntly honest with ourselves. Americans have become so polarized with our politics that it is as if we speak different languages and are unable to communicate with or understand each other
at all.

This polarization is so acute that Congress is no longer functional. It struggles to pass important legislation, and dealings among members, once congenial, are so toxic they have taken to name calling and posting signs about each other. Several have expressed fear for their personal safety because of other members. Most state legislatures are functional to some degree, but Congressional-style gridlock remains a threat in some places.

Pundits will debate for generations how we got to this dangerous place, but one truth is obvious now. The U.S. Senate tradition of the filibuster is antiquated, frustrating and destructive to
democracy.

What exactly is a filibuster? It is a delaying tactic never mentioned or apparently contemplated in the Constitution. It developed in the mid-1800s as a way to stave off a vote on legislation a Senator opposed by allowing him—and in the early days, it was always him — to slow proceedings to a crawl by talking ... and talking ... and talking. It has been used by both parties, notably by Southern Democrats in the 20th century to oppose various civil rights legislation.

In 1957, Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Democrat, talked for an astounding 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to just such a bill, eventually reading from law books to pass the time. More recently, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas yapped for more than 19 hours in 2013 against the Affordable Care Act, at one point reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” on the
Senate floor.

Along the way, Senators figured out that they do not actually have to talk for days on end. They just have to threaten to do that, and such a threat is generally invoked by the opposing party to stop popular legislation put forward by the other party.

Current Senate rules call for 60 of 100 votes to end a filibuster, which in a closely divided chamber as most have been for decades, it is almost impossible to get those 60 votes, so actual filibusters rarely occur and significant legislation is exceedingly difficult to pass. Right now, two critical pieces of legislation, another COVID economic stimulus package and a sweeping voting rights protection measure, face exactly this filibuster threat from Senate Republicans, even though both are popular with voters of both parties.

No matter what one’s party affiliation or views on any particular legislation, few of us elected our Senators to stonewall the process. We elected him — and in recent years, some hers — to inform themselves and then to vote on our behalf.

Sometimes one side will prevail, and sometimes the other will, but it serves neither party nor the American people for the business of our legislative branch to be held hostage by procedural rules.

Both Democrats and Republicans have toyed from time to time with amending the rules regarding filibusters, sometimes referred to as “exercising the nuclear option.” Most legislative bodies, including the U.S. House, operate on a simple majority principle, except on special votes such as veto overrides. The U.S. House has long since limited filibuster privileges and does not suffer the stalemates that beset the Senate.

It makes increasing sense to many Americans that the filibuster go the way of the dodo bird, so that decisions can be made. Failing that, it also makes sense that if the Senate is going to allow filibusters, its members should actually suffer through them, 24 hours, “Green Eggs and Ham,”
and all.

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