Short of that, I would institute one cloture change, moving from three-fifths of the Senate to three-fifths of those present and voting. Why? Because now, if the majority says, we will bring the place to a halt and go around the clock, the burden is on the majority to have 51 senators sleeping on cots outside the chamber to make a quorum, while the minority needs only one or two to note the absence of a quorum and to object to unanimous consent agreements.
That change would affect only big bills but would not change the incentive to obstruct small and routine ones, or nominations, where it would be entirely impractical for the majority leader to stop everything to prevail. Here we need to streamline the process, cutting back the time to ripen a cloture motion from 30 hours of post-cloture debate to, say, 15 per side, but with the proviso that senators actually have to be on the floor debating continuously during those hours.
These are reasonable changes that do not eliminate filibusters but sharply curtail their misuse. They should attract thoughtful and responsible minority senators. If they don’t, then it’s time to consider other options, including the constitutional one.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.