Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Krasno & Robinson: Fixing the Filibuster

Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has promised to join the GOP filibuster of health care reform. To do so, he will not need to give any long-winded speeches, make any parliamentary motions, or even vote. All he will need to do is NOT do something his predecessor did — vote to allow the Senate to vote on the bill itself, a procedure known as cloture.If that sounds like doing nothing at all, it is. This is the latest step in the evolution of the filibuster from exhausting to effortless. It has always been difficult to pass a bill, but it has never in Senate history been easier to stall or block a vote.No wonder the number of votes stalled or blocked has dramatically increased. Once a tactic of extraordinary resistance used sparingly, filibusters are now a routine way to oppose anything. Senators have even filibustered bills they support to gain concessions. Several months ago, the Senate unanimously voted to extend unemployment benefits after overcoming three separate filibusters.All this filibustering has made it extremely difficult for the Senate to act and impossible for it to act quickly. The constant delays are mystifying to citizens and maddening to at least half of Senators at any time. Right now the Democrats are the ones stymied by filibusters, but Republicans will experience the same frustration when they regain control.The question is how to fix this situation — especially in a way consistent with the Senate’s traditions. The answer is to revisit the procedure to end filibusters, cloture, to make Senators trying to prevent a vote work as hard as Senators trying to force one.Here is our three-step plan:1. Make them vote. Cloture is invoked with a vote by three-fifths of the Senate’s membership — the magical 60 votes now necessary for the Senate to do anything. That is why it does not matter whether Sen. Brown votes; anything short of 60 in favor of cloture is a failure.That is ridiculous. Filibustering Senators are the ones trying to prevent the Senate from voting. It would make more sense to require them, after some hours of debate, to assemble 41 votes to continue, rather than the other way around. Our compromise is to allow three-fifths of Senators present and voting to invoke cloture, making votes against just as important as votes in favor.2. Make voting easier. By itself, Step One would change little since attendance is generally high for cloture votes. That is because those votes follow elaborate buildup. Fairness requires that it be as easy to try to end filibusters as it is to start them.The point is to allow a filibuster’s opponents to hold a cloture vote with little delay or warning. That would, in concert with Step One, force a filibuster’s supporters to be constantly at the ready to fend off cloture whether a vote comes at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m.

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