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Filibuster Abuse

The Campaign for America's Future has a report today documenting the unprecedented use of the filibuster by Senate Republicans to block legislation (on pace for 134 cloture votes this Congress, compared to a previous high of 61 in 2001-02). Of course, most people in Washington seem to have a different view of the filibuster now than they did during the great nuclear option debate of 2005, the last time it was in the news. One person who doesn't, presumably, is George F. Will, who persuasively defended the filibuster then:

Some conservatives oddly seem to regret the fact that the government bristles with delaying and blocking mechanisms--separation of powers, bicameral legislature, etc. The filibuster is one such mechanism--an instrument for minority assertion. It enables democracy to be more than government-by-adding-machine, more than a mere counter of numbers. The filibuster registers intensity, enabling intense minorities to slow or stop government.

I'd be curious to know what Will thinks of the Senate GOP's tactics. When the filibuster is used as the Republicans have used it this Congress, it is no longer an instrument for registering intensity--rather, it's just another routine obstacle to legislating. I've never subscribed to the Sanford Levinson point of view that there are too many veto points in the federal government, but when 60 votes are needed as a matter of course (rather than only on hotly divided, high-profile issues), it's easy to sympathize with Levinson.

Filibusters should be sort of like instant-replay challenges in NFL games--you only get a certain number of them, so you only use them when it really matters. Unfortunately, given the level of partisanship in Congress, it's difficult to envision Republicans voluntarily refraining from using filibusters on routine matters (though it's worth pointing out that the Democrats used the filibuster fairly responsibly when they were in the minority). It's also hard to see how one could craft some sort of procedural reform to limit the filibuster's use so that it really does register intensity--though I'd be interested to hear any ideas our dear readers have.

--Josh Patashnik