Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

  • January 12, 2010

    After ACSblog published "The Abuse of the Filibuster," by Derek Duarte, a slew of columnists spilled ink on the Senate rules that have proven fertile ground for legislative gridlock. And one idea is being floated on Capitol Hill that may change the way that Washington works.

    The modern filibuster was born in 1975, with a revision to Senate Rule 22. This week, Attorney Thomas Geoghegan outlined the filibuster's evolution in The New York Times

    As revised in 1975, Senate Rule 22 seemed to be an improvement: it required 60 senators, not 67, to stop floor debate. But there also came a significant change in de facto Senate practice: to maintain a filibuster, senators no longer had to keep talking. Nowadays, they don't even have to start; they just say they will, and that's enough. Senators need not be on the floor at all. They can be at home watching ["Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"] on cable. Senate Rule 22 now exists to cut off what are ghost filibusters, disembodied debates. 

    One proposal for changing this state of affairs graced the pages of The New Republic last month: Act now to end the filibuster in, say, 2017. Since changing Senate rules requires a two-thirds vote, and considering that no minority party is going to forfeit their power to block enactment of the majority's will -- the argument goes -- Senators should be amenable to curing the body's dysfunctional rules of operation at a date when the majority party is unknown.

    Sen. Tom Harkin has another idea.