Every important piece of legislation that makes its way to the U.S. Senate deserves deliberate consideration. Deliberation and recalcitrance, however, are not the same.
Over the last few decades, a rule in the U.S. Senate, originally intended to encourage constructive debate and deflect unnecessary bills, has morphed into a stalling tactic that too often leaves the Senate knotted.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford fully understands the pros and cons of the current Senate rule; and, rather than entirely throw out what can be an important protection of minority perspectives, he proposes, in an opinion column in the Feb. 8 Washington Post, a tweak to make it a better rule.
As of now, Senate rules allow the minority party in the chamber to block any bill by denying it the 60-vote margin needed to proceed. Over the course of the past several years, both Democrats and Republicans have used this tactic to hold up both good and bad bills.
Rules of the Senate require two votes of 60 senators. The first vote is the motion to proceed (start the debate) and the second to end the debate and pass the bill. That 60-vote margin, especially the first one, is too often difficult, if not impossible, to attain.
Proponents of the current rule argue that by denying the motion to proceed, through the filibuster, many bad bills have been stopped, and that it has slowed the expansion of government. And there is truth in that.
And they would correctly argue that the filibuster also protects the rights of the minority party, which was one of the original intents of the rule. There is no doubt: The Senate filibuster has its place.
Lankford, however, is not pushing for a complete overhaul of the rule. He only wants it modified. And it is a reasonable quest.
He proposes that the motion to proceed — to begin the debate — require only a simple majority. That allows the process to start and gives both sides a reason to consider compromise.
He would maintain the 60-vote margin to end debate. That would continue to empower minorities, and force majorities to find common ground.
“We all should want debate and amendments on bills,” Lankford wrote. “I firmly believe the Senate should see more voting and debate and less standing around and waiting for backroom deals.”
The senator is right on this issue. Debate and open discussion of legislation that affects every person in the country is important. It makes no sense to have the game ended before the opening kickoff.
We urge the Senate to get behind Lankford on this proposal. As he points out, with future partisan control of the Senate in doubt, everyone has a reason to consider the change.
The American people often decry the lack of cooperation and the lack of movement in Congress. This proposal takes a step toward solving that problem.
No one wants bad bills to become law. But no one wants to see the Senate bogged down because of a rule that has outlived its usefulness.