Modifying the Filibuster: A Means to Foster Bipartisanship While Reigning in its Most Egregious Abuses
Over the past few years, a parliamentary maneuver in the U.S. Senate known as the filibuster has been the subject of considerable debate. Defined as a “deliberate use of prolonged debate and procedural delaying tactics to block action supported by a majority of members,” the filibuster in its current form allows a minority of the Senate to block the body from considering a given matter unless three-fifths of the Senate votes for cloture on the filibuster. Once a rarely used maneuver that put an enormous burden on the individuals choosing to use it, the filibuster has become easier to use, and increasingly commonplace. The filibuster is now sometimes used even on completely noncontroversial matters that ultimately pass with little or no opposition. With the increased frequency of the filibuster has come the increased use of the “hold,” a Senate practice which derives its power from the filibuster and allows an individual Senator to stop or delay the Senate from voting on an issue by the mere act of threatening to vote against cloture.
Supporters of these practices argue that they are important to forging compromise and preventing partisan legislation from being enacted into law too quickly, and from keeping truly extreme appointees out of government positions. Gregory Koger, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, supports the filibuster because it provides stability for the country by preventing radical policy shifts whenever a new party takes control of Congress. Detractors argue that filibusters are often used inappropriately on what should be routine votes and make it too difficult to pass legislation. Some even argue that “majority rules” should govern and favor reforms that would allow the Senate to pass legislation on a simple majority vote.