Elizabeth Warren Wants to Reform the Filibuster

James Stewart as Mr. Smith, via YouTube

Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post Thursday morning to sign on with her colleagues who say it is time for filibuster reform. The filibuster, by which the minority can block movement on legislation, has seen an explosion in use in past years. Democrats (because they happen to be in the majority at this moment) are saying enough is enough. Warren’s op-ed recalls better days:

Remember Jimmy Stewart’s classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? I love that movie. That’s what most of us think of when we hear the word “filibuster” — a single passionate senator speaking for hours about legislation they fiercely oppose until they literally collapse with exhaustion.

But that’s not what today’s filibuster looks like. In reality, any senator can make a phone call, say they object to a bill, then head out for the night. In the meantime, business comes to a screeching halt.

On the first day of the new session in January, the senators will have a unique opportunity to change the filibuster rule with a majority vote, rather than the normal two-thirds vote. The change can be modest: If someone objects to a bill or a nomination in the United States Senate, they should have to stand on the floor of the chamber and defend their opposition.

The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein wrote an interesting column in Bloomberg View on the movement for filibuster reform last week. He doesn’t think Warren’s solution — requiring the Senator actually filibuster a bill from the floor — would solve the problem:

That doesn’t go nearly far enough. The problem with the filibuster isn’t that senators don’t have to stand and talk, or that they can filibuster the motion to debate as well as the vote itself. It’s that the Senate has become, with no discussion or debate, an effective 60-vote institution. If you don’t change that, you haven’t solved the problem.

As for whether the minority party will actually let this happen, Klein’s not sure, but as one solution, he says the Senate could implement a reform that wouldn’t go into effect for six years, far enough away that neither party knows who will benefit from it most immediately. W0uldn’t it be fun if one of Warren’s first stands as a senator ended up helping the opposition in 2018?