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Commentary

Go nuclear on filibuster

Los Angeles Times
Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 05:44 PM

Nothing exposes partisan hypocrisy quite like the filibuster, that irksome parliamentary rule that allows a minority of U.S. senators to block legislation, judicial appointments and other business by requiring a 60-vote majority to proceed to a vote. Almost invariably, the party in power considers the filibuster to be an enemy of progress that must be squashed, while the minority fights to preserve it at all cost. So comes now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., with a campaign to alter the filibuster rule using the so-called nuclear option, which if invoked on the opening day of the new legislative session would allow senators to change the rules by majority vote. For the record, we were rooting for the Republicans to go nuclear in 2005, and we feel the same way with Democrats in control. This is not a venerable rule created by the Founding Fathers to protect against the tyranny of the majority, but a procedural nicety that has been altered many times throughout history. In its current incarnation, it has produced gridlock in Congress.

Reid reportedly aims to return to the era of the "talking filibuster," when senators who wanted to hold up a bill had to stand up and debate it ceaselessly, day and night. This doesn't go quite far enough; Reid should also place limits on the number of opportunities for senators to mount filibusters, and put the burden on minority opponents by forcing them to come up with 40 votes to sustain a filibuster, rather than requiring the majority to drum up 60 votes to end it. Nonetheless, Reid's plan is a nice start, requiring those who want to hold up legislation to do so publicly and to use their oratorical skills to explain why such a move is justified.

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