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Danforth and Boren: It's Time for Filibuster Reform

When considering rules changes, senators from each party will seek to design procedures that serve their partisan interests. We suggest that a better approach would be for the two parties to seek common ground by supporting proposals that serve the dual ends of enhancing the legislative process while protecting minority rights. Such an approach might include these ideas:

1. The practice of silent filibusters and anonymous holds should end because they demean the Senate’s tradition of open debate and deliberation. Those who want to block a bill should be required to hold the floor with a talking filibuster. Our elections are premised on accountability, and citizens deserve to know which senator is holding up the process and why that senator is doing so, even if it is within a senator’s right under the rules to speak at length about any particular piece of legislation.

2. The Senate should restore its role as a provider of advice and consent to the president by precluding the filibustering of judicial and executive branch nominees. Vacancies on the federal bench have resulted in scores of “judicial emergencies,” thereby delaying justice for thousands of Americans as nominees with broad bipartisan support languish on the floor. Other nominees are used as bargaining chips to extract concessions on unrelated legislation, even when nominees’ qualifications are not at issue. The prospect of being caught in the confirmation trap discourages well-qualified Americans from accepting offers to serve the public, because the personal costs are so high.

3. The minority must be entitled to a fair opportunity to offer amendments to legislation. “Filling the tree” should not deny senators their right to participate in the legislative process with their own priorities and voice

It’s plain that the present state of affairs is untenable to the American people, and confounding to many of us who served in the chamber for so many years. Let us turn away from the brinkmanship of abused legislative procedures and return with vigor to spirited debates over policy and substance. Let the Senate be the Senate again.

Former Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., served from 1976 to 1995. Former Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., served from 1979 to 1994.

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