The Best Filibuster Reform Is No Reform At All


One of the most blatant hypocrisies of Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp’s ugly stampede to election day victory was that, even as she pledged more bi-partisanship and cooperative legislating, she’d already pledged support to a scheme to gut the Senate’s filibuster’s rule which exist as a protection of the minority party’s interests.

Today the Grand Forks Herald, while stopping well short of calling Heitkamp a hypocrite for this contradiction, urges the Senator-elect to engage in bi-partisan filibuster reform.

“Make filibuster reform a bipartisan project. That’s not an impossible dream,” writes opinion editor Tom Dennis. “Republicans will regain the majority someday, and Democrats will be back in the minority. So, it’s in both sides’ interest to make sure the Senate not only runs with both reasonable efficiency but also protects the minority party’s rights.”

That’s true. The view of the filibuster is woefully subjective. Back when Democrats had a minority in the Senate, current Majority Leader Harry Reid who spent millions through his PAC to get Heitkamp elected and is currently leading the effort to undermine the filibuster thought protecting the minority part was important. “It encourages moderation and consensus,” he said of the filibuster in a floor speech. “It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail.”

Republicans at the time, of course, hated the filibuster.

And even the supposedly even-handed editorial board of the Grand Forks Herald can’t write about the filibuster without injecting their own frustration into the debate. In Dennis editorial he gives a nod to Democrats “understandably upset with the Republicans’ filibuster abuse in recent years.” The folks at the Herald are upset with Republicans roadblocking a liberal agenda. No doubt they’d feel different if it were liberals roadblocking a conservative agenda.

The view of the filibuster is always subjective. You love it when you can use it against the opposition. You hate it when it’s used against you.

Yet, the filibuster is an important part of our legislative process. It’s hard for many to fathom in this age where federal policy reaches down into even some of the most mundane, day-to-day aspects of our lives but we should remember that our federal government was designed to work slowly and only with broad national consensus for a reason. There just aren’t that many policies that should be implemented on a national scale as opposed to a more local, regional application. If we’re going to pass a law that impacts the entire nation, it should be passed with more buy-in than a simple majority in both houses of the legislature.

The filibuster applies a higher standard, and despite all the partisan and ideological wrangling about it, that’s as it should be.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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