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Monday, December 28, 2009

Filibuster, Con and Pro

In chapter 13, we discuss the Senate filibuster.  Ezra Klein argues against it in The Washington Post:

According to UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, about 8 percent of major bills faced a filibuster in the 1960s. This decade, that jumped to 70 percent. The problem with the minority party continually making the majority party fail, of course, is that it means neither party can ever successfully govern the country.

Jeff Merkley, a freshman Democratic Senator from Oregon and former speaker of Oregon's House of Representatives, spoke to this issue in an interview last week. "When you use the word filibuster," he said, "most of us in America envision it as the ability to speak at length and even delay progress by taking hours. I count myself among those Americans." He sighed. "But it's not a filibuster anymore. It's a supermajority requirement. And when that becomes commonly used, it's a recipe for paralysis."
 At RealClearPolitics, Jay Cost argues for the filibuster:
Using the filibuster is thus a rational response when one finds oneself in the smaller half of a polarized chamber, which is more likely to be the case today than 45 years ago.

This points to a highly beneficial purpose the filibuster can serve. Per Klein, it is indeed an obstructionist tool, but it is also a way to promote moderate policies, even as the parties have become more ideologically extreme. In other words, thanks to the filibuster, an ideologically extreme majority party cannot simply enact its policy preferences as it sees fit. Instead, it must either find common ground with some on the other side, or do nothing. In other words, the filibuster has an effect similar to that of a large body of water on the climate of the neighboring coast, keeping the temperature from getting too hot or too cold.