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Krasno & Robinson: Fixing the Filibuster

3. Reduce debate times. Once invoked, cloture allows another 30 hours of debate before a vote occurs. Because the legislative process involves a series of steps, Senators can delay a bill by weeks by forcing multiple cloture votes on a single bill.The obvious response is to reduce the amount of time for debate following cloture. This would streamline the process and give the majority some leverage to strike deals to forgo filibusters in exchange for prolonged debate.These reforms would not prevent filibusters, especially on bills like health care reform that arouse strong opinions. But they would end the effortless filibuster, making the decision to start or join one more difficult.Unfortunately, the Senate’s rules make changes like these all but impossible. That is why when Republicans were last in charge they worked out an elaborate series of maneuvers known as the “nuclear option” to ban judicial filibusters. While a handful of Republicans eventually balked, the mere threat led to a compromise that helped several blocked nominees get confirmed. Nothing prevents the Democrats from doing the same.But it should not come to that. The current arrangement where a minority of Senators can block or stall everything is unsustainable. This current crop of Senators may be unwilling to push the nuclear button and ban filibusters, but there is no guarantee that future Senators will be so restrained. Senators of both parties who value the Senate’s tradition of unlimited debate should understand that reform is the only hope to preserve it.Like the vast majority of Americans, we want governmental institutions to work, not be paralyzed by politics and arcane procedures. Restoring the filibuster to its traditional place as an extraordinary tactic of extraordinary opposition is essential to make the Senate work again.Jonathan Krasno and Gregory Robinson are professors of political science at Binghamton University.

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