I’ll leave the links to you, but I wanted to talk about the first challenge since Obama’s election where us Californians can have an impact: Filibuster reform.
Be warned, this is going to be liberal advocacy, so feel free to skip it and drop links, etc.
The Constitution of the United States established a careful system of checks and balances. To pass a law, both the house (with its proportional representation) and the senate (with its state-based representation) would have to pass the same law. Then the President would have to sign it. Then, if they had gone too far, the courts could overturn it. Notably, both the legislative process and the judicial review was designed to be done via majority vote. The structure itself was the safeguard.
The majority vote part in the Senate was screwed up by a mistake. In the beginning, both the House and the Senate had what is called a “Previous Question Motion,” which ends debate on a majority vote. In 1806, the Senate dropped that rule as part of a broad rewriting of their rules suggested by then Vice President Aaron Burr, probably thinking the rule was unnecessary. And, for a long time, they were right: the first filibuster did not take place for another 35 years.
For a long time, the filibuster was a rarely used, possibly heroic act (see, for example, the scene from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, released in 1939). Even some of the most controversial laws in American history were expected to pass if they could attract 50% of the senate. After that, it was basically a tool to prevent northerners from passing desegregation laws.
Then, in 1993, filibuster threats shot through the roof (a cloture filing is the way the majority calls the vote to end a filibuster). Senate republicans filed cloture about 80 times that year, ultimately preventing votes on 60 different bills. Senate democrats returned the favor, albeit a bit less frequently, during their Bush-era minority. After Obama’s election, Republicans took filibustering to a whole new level. In Obama’s first year, Republicans threatened 140 filibusters. In 2009-2010, 90% of all bills were threatened with a filibuster. What’s more, they did so indiscriminately, filibustering bills that ultimately passed with broad bipartisan support including at least one that passed 97-0. They do this because the process of defeating a filibuster takes time, preventing the Senate from doing anything else. After you call for cloture, you need to wait two days to take the vote. After you take the vote, there’s 30 hours of post-cloture debate. And you can do this on the motion to debate, on amendments, on the vote on the bill itself â€¦ on everything, really.
The filibuster is bad. When Democrats are in power it prevents them from acting on their agenda even when, as was the case with the DISCLOSE campaign finance law this week, the bill is supported by the house, the president, and 57 senators. By the same token, when Republicans are in power, it prevents them from acting on the agenda the voters want.
The filibuster is stupid. By forcing every vote to take forever, it prevents the Senate from conducting business that isn’t high profile. Judges are not appointed. Second-tier appointees are not appointed. Routine business is delayed.
The filibuster is unnatural. It is NOT one of the checks and balances designed by the framers of the constitution. It is an extra super-majority requirement in the less representative legislative body. Senators representing 12% of the population (the 20 least populous states plus half of the 21st) can prevent any law from being passed at any time.
Fortunately, the mistake made in 1806 can be fixed by 51 Senators. Dubbed the “constitutional option,” a majority vote of senators at the beginning of a session can enact whatever rules they want, as provided by Art. 1 Sec. V of the Constitution (“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings”). Detailed analysis here (PDF). 51 Senators, then, simply need to put the “Previous Question Motion” back in the rules. This approach is currently being championed by Senator Udall (D-NM).
What you can do
Matt Yglesias reports that DiFi is opposed to the proposed solution. Unlike HCR, FinReg, and this Senate’s other pieces of legislation, we have a senator who is on the wrong side of the issue. I’ll be making time to call her offices. And you should too. Here are some things to think about for your call.