Senate filibusters need to be abolished

By Caleb Berry
cberry@thenorthernlight.org

In the practice of creating political spectacles there is no technique more spectacular or theatrical than the filibuster. The mere threat by a lone senator to filibuster has been enough to stop bills in their track. While dramatic, filibusters are also a dangerous tool that, when abused, threaten the function of the government, the purpose of Congress and the democratic process itself. The recent 2018 federal government shutdown is evidence of the obstructive nature of senate filibusters and illustrates that the concept has no place in an effective assembly.

The filibuster is an obstructive tactic used to keep a measure from being voted on upon the floor. A filibuster usually takes the form of either a lone senator or a coalition of senators extending debate on a measure to an extreme length in an effort to fatigue the opposition.

According to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the United States Senate, a supermajority of three-fifth of the senate quorum is required to end a filibuster. This means that, assuming all 100 members of the Senate are present for session, 60 senators are required to agree to bring the debate to a close, before the filibuster can be ended.

The filibuster process is an absurd tool used by those who wish to use underhanded tactics to fatigue their political opposition rather than subsistently argue the merits of the bill being considered. In September 2013, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas delivered a 21 hour speech prior to a vote to fund provisions allotted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. For 21 hours Cruz delayed business on the Senate floor as he discussed everything from his constituents to Ashton Kutcher. Cruz talked about life, his family and in between discussing topics relevant to Congress read Green Eggs and Ham to his daughters on live television. It was a waste of time.

If a senator disagrees with the Affordable Care Act, that is acceptable, but the senator should make intelligent and dignified arguments to fight efforts that are disagreeable instead of resorting to outlandish theatrics in an attempt to wear out political opponents.

While leaders of both parties recently negotiated to pass a bill to temporarily fund our government, it is unfortunate that the matter is not fully resolved. The shutdown happened after leaders in the democratic party, chiefly Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, encouraged democratic senators to invoke a filibuster to stall a vote on a bill to fund the federal government. The democrats main motivation to invoke the filibuster to stall a vote on the bill was because the bill did not included a satisfactory solution concerning  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

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Regardless of one’s opinion on DACA, or any other political issue, there is a way to go about conducting the business of government in a dignified and open way. It can be appreciated that we have democratic senators that want to keep the DACA program funded but the strategies they employed to go about this task are underhanded and have produced negative consequences. This shutdown has affected nearly a million government employees. Furloughs have been issued, soldiers have worked and trained without pay, students here on this campus have had their livelihoods affected.

If democratic senators do not wish to vote for a bill to fund the government that does not include provisions to fund DACA then they should allow the bill to go to the floor and vote no on it. Instead a coalition of  members from the minority party have banded together to keep a bill to fund our federal government from even reaching a point where it can be voted on. The filibuster process essentially allows a minority of congress to hold the Senate hostage. It is wrong to do this and members of both major parties are guilty of this.

The solution is simple, the Standing Rules of the United States Senate should be amended to implement standard time limits for debates on motions. This would ensure that senators have a reasonable amount of time to speak about importance business but not delay the democratic process.