How to reform the filibuster without taking a vote

August 20, 2012

Want to fix the Senate? Two former Senate aides—a Democratic staffer and a GOP-backed Senate parliamentarian—have a new book out this week suggesting reforms that wouldn't even require a bill to pass Congress, according to Roll Call's preview of the book.


(Jacquelyn Martin - Associated Press)

As its title suggests, "Defending the Filibuster" maintains that the much-maligned Senate procedure is crucial to protecting the minority and insuring "stability and deliberation in government," according to the book description. But Richard Arenberg and Robert Dove also offer some suggestions for reform around the edges. Before the Senate can debate a bill, it must pass the "motion to proceed"—a vote that's meant to be procedural but which has become increasingly politicized and subject to filibusters in recent years. In effect, rather than ensuring an opportunity to debate a bill, the filibuster is stopping the debate from happening.

Arenberg and Dove want to make this vote "non-debatable, which is to say, not subject to a filibuster," explains Roll Call's Niels Lesniewski. And they wouldn't need to amend the Senate rules to do so:

As the authors note, the Majority Leader could avoid cloture on proceeding to bills at any time by using an arcane process of morning hour debate. 'This route has, for some reason that escapes us, fallen out of favor with modern majority leaders (since Robert Byrd used it),' the book says...Senate leaders routinely skip over the morning hour debate, but motions to proceed offered during the morning hour cannot be filibustered

Harry Reid has similarly called for junking the filibuster on motions to proceed. But experts on Congress point out that senators would still have many other opportunities to block legislation, even if this one hurdle were removed. The Senate would still require 60-vote supermajorities to get anything done.

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