(March 17) Yes, let’s reform the filibuster. But no, don’t let Senate Democrats reform the filibuster.

At least not the Democrats by themselves. Senate procedural reforms should be bipartisan.

The filibuster, a parliamentary tool via which a determined Senate minority can block legislation unless it receives a three-fifths majority vote to end debate on the matter, has become a serious impediment to Congress’s lawmaking function. In today’s highly partisan climate, so many bills get blocked via filibuster that it creates a policymaking void increasingly filled by the executive branch. Congress’s institutional prerogatives and the intended constitutional design are thus, in practice, thwarted.

On the other hand, there is much to be said in favor of the Senate’s tradition of ensuring that a bare majority doesn’t steamroll over a sizable minority, especially for immediate gain on major legislation. The filibuster serves a great purpose in forcing disparate elements to form a broad consensus. Systemic stability is greatly enhanced when policy can’t be changed back and forth with bare majorities, rather than with the assent from a broader coalition.

The political Left’s current obsession with ending or “reforming” the Senate filibuster is nothing more than a hardball political power play. As Byron York explains in these pages, 33 current Democrats took exactly the opposite position less than four years ago, making the current, anti-filibuster push a massive display of hypocrisy. It’s also evidence of a near-endless cycle of escalating punitive tactics whereby each party, once it resecures a majority, violates previous norms as punishment for the other party breaking prior norms.

The Senate has become a dysfunctional, virtually broken institution. The use and misuse of the filibuster, the use and misuse of other procedural tactics, and the vicious hyperpartisanship of a judicial confirmation process that leaves too many nominees emotionally and reputationally battered all cry out for reform. The goal should be to preserve minority rights to force extended debate while allowing the Senate to still function both efficiently and fairly. Ideas for filibuster reform should be considered in tandem with broader procedural and behavioral reforms that restore the Senate to its onetime image as the world’s greatest deliberative body….

[The full column is here.]


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