James Madison explained that the Constitution’s authors considered the Senate to be the great “anchor” of the government. The upper chamber has become an anchor, but I don’t think today’s dilatory Senate is what the Founders had in mind.
Many Americans see the main issue in the Senate as the filibuster rule, the 60 vote requirement to move on legislation. The Senate should not go to a 51 vote majority for every vote. Because the Senate is the one entity in the federal government where the minority view is heard and deliberation is protected.
But the Senate isn’t working. First, the minority party has for months abused Senate rules to stall the nomination process and therefore the entire Senate calendar. Second, the arcane rules of the Senate always force a painfully slow legislative pace.
Since presidential nominations now require only a simple majority to pass, the majority party can confirm nominees without any minority party support. But the minority can force the full 30 hours of debate time provided within the rules, which they have repeatedly demanded. At the current rate, it will take 11 years to fill the executive branch.
By the first July 19 of the previous four administrations, on average 190 officials had been confirmed. President Trump had just 50 confirmed by that date. Numerous national security-related officials still await consideration because the Democrats have “resisted” Mr. Trump by stalling.
David Nye was nominated by President Obama and again by President Trump to be a federal district judge in Idaho. He was confirmed 100-0 on July 12—but only after the minority party demanded the full 30 hours of debate time, preventing other nominees or legislation from being considered during that period.
How do we get the Senate working again? First, we should reduce floor debate time for executive nominees from 30 hours to eight or less. The Senate could debate and vote on five or more nominees a week, instead of just one or two. Interestingly, this rule change was adopted for a short time by the Senate in 2013, under Harry Reid, as part of a temporary agreement to fill nominations. It worked then, and it would work now.
Second, we should lower the vote threshold on the “motion to proceed,” which begins legislative debate and amendment consideration, from 60 votes to 51. Almost every bill in the Senate currently requires two votes of 60 senators, one vote to start debate and another to end it. We should change this rule to allow the majority party to open debate, while protecting the minority party by keeping the threshold to end debate at 60.
If we really want to get the Senate working, allow for “dual tracking” so senators could debate and vote on nominations in the morning and legislation in the afternoon.
It’s time we put an end to the hyperpartisanship and delay to serve the needs of the American people. We can be deliberative and productive at the same time, but that will require fundamental changes in the rules, not eliminating the filibuster entirely.