Why We Need to Reform the Filibuster to Fight Climate Change


They may seem like two disparate topics: climate change and an archaic Senate procedural rule. But they have more in common than you might think. Thanks to the Senate filibuster rule, essentially any piece of legislation needs 60 votes, a super-majority, if it hopes to pass. This is one of the reasons that the climate bill was killed in the Senate -- it could only muster a normal majority, like 55 votes. In a true democracy, that should be enough to fly. But in our political culture, it's still miles away, and reason enough to sound a death knell for the whole enterprise. So the fact remains -- if we want to fight climate change with good policy, we're probably going to have to reform the filibuster. As it is now, the filibuster presents an affront to democracy -- it has for years, but we haven't made much noise about it. So why raise the issue now? Well, along with helping to (unfairly) kill the climate bill, what was originally intended as a last-ditch procedural rule is now being routinely abused by the minority power: In the last two years, there have been more filibusters or threats to filibuster than there have been in the entire post World War II era combined. That's outrageous. No other democratic nation requires its governing bodies to pass votes by a near two-thirds margin.

Here's Dave Roberts on why, in a truly democratic world, we would have passed climate legislation by now:

Climate and clean energy are incredibly difficult issues for any number of reasons. Yet environmentalists pulled together a huge coalition of businesses, religious groups, military groups, unions, and social justice groups. They got a majority of U.S. citizens on their side, as polls repeatedly showed. And -- here's the kicker -- on the back of all that work, they got a majority of legislators in both houses of Congress on their side.

In a sane world -- and in other developed democracies -- that's what success looks like. Environmentalists did what they were supposed to do, and they did it well! They should be proud of themselves. It's not their fault Republicans are abusing idiosyncratic features of Senate governance to make reform prohibitively difficult.

Indeed. And talk of reforming the filibuster is finally gaining momentum in certain circles, and has gained tentative backing from senators themselves. This is an issue very much supporting, despite its confusing, wonky nature.

The world is still watching America to see when and how we'll move on climate policy. Many developing nations won't move until we do, which is fair enough, and industrialized nations use our policy as something of a barometer as well. There's no chance of a meaningful global treaty until we've passed solid climate policy domestically. Reforming the Senate filibuster would finally allow us to enact reasonable climate legislation that would send a signal to the world that we're ready to seriously join the discussion. In that way, addressing a weird procedural rule could end up being the best thing to happen to the planet's climate.

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