First Filibuster Reform, then Climate Action


Photo: Marion Doss via Flickr/CC BY-SA

The fact that we currently need 60 votes in the Senate to pass any kind of legislation at all is just plain crazy. For the vast majority of US history, this was simply not the case -- a simple majority was enough to pass a bill. Yes, the filibuster -- which allows a dissenting senator to hold up a vote on any bill by taking the floor and talking continuously, until overruled by a vote of 60 senators -- has long existed. But it was designed as a failsafe, not a rule to be routinely used, as it is now. Now, the filibuster is invoked on a regular basis -- making it hard to get just about anything done, including climate action. It's the reason Democrats gave up on the climate bill. And it needs to change.If we want to have any hope of getting good climate policy passed -- and returning the Senate to a properly functioning democratic body -- we're going to need to stop filibuster abuse. And Senator Tom Udall (D-UT) is spearheading an effort that would do just that.

Here's Ezra Klein:

Where some senators are arguing for a specific reform to the filibuster, or a new rule on judicial nominations, Udall is arguing for a routine and predictable process whereby the majority will review the rules every two years and be able to change them by a majority vote. He calls it "the Constitutional Option," after the line in the Constitution guaranteeing that "Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its Proceedings."

Udall argues that the Senate's resistance to revising its rulebook has signaled that there'll be no consequences for distorting and misusing the rules. The filibuster, for instance, has gone from a rarely invoked failsafe to a constant. As Rucker and Fahrenthold note, "during Johnson's three terms as majority leader, from 1955 to 1961, there was only one time when a vote was called to break a filibuster. In the past two years, there have been 84."


See the above graph to see how dire the situation has gotten. I think Udall's idea is a good one -- though some will inevitably argue that it puts too much power in the majority party to update the rules, some action is absolutely necessary. The Senate, with its members regularly manipulating arcane rules (Democrats and Republicans both) has become nearly entirely dysfunctional, and has strayed from its original intent to pass laws on a majority basis.

If we want to see good climate action, we're probably going to have to dull the power of the filibuster. Udall's Option may be the best way forward.

More on Climate Politics
The 7 Things That Killed the Climate Bill
Why We Need to Reform the Filibuster to Fight Climate Change

Tags: Congress | Global Climate Change | United States