Small changes can make a big difference
Published 6:43 am Sunday, December 9, 2012
Guest Column, by Amy Klobuchar
This election we heard loud and clear from people on both sides of the aisle: Congress needs more cooperation and less gridlock.
The American people want leaders who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They want leaders who are problem-solvers. And they want results.
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In order to meet the challenges facing our country we also need to make sure we have a legislative process that promotes substantive debate and real decisions, not endless bickering and partisan gamesmanship.
One way to achieve that is to reform the Senate filibuster.
The filibuster allows a single senator to block the progress of legislation unless its supporters are able to secure 60 votes for passage, rather than a simple majority.
In the past, the filibuster was used only as a last resort, providing a way for minority party members to express their views, ensuring them a seat at the table and promoting substantive debate.
I support ensuring the minority has a strong voice, but the filibuster has now become a weapon that obstructs progress on critical issues. In fact, during the last Congress alone, it was used more than in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s combined.
That’s why I’m pushing for filibuster reform that will not only make Congress more accountable, but will also streamline the legislative process so we can move forward with the business of the people and get things done.
First, I believe we need to reinstate the standing filibuster, requiring senators of either party who threaten to block legislation to actually stand on the Senate floor and explain to the American people why they oppose a bill.
Under the current system, senators can simply threaten to filibuster legislation they don’t like, effectively halting its progress without being held accountable for their obstruction.
If an issue is so important that a senator is willing to take hours or even days to make his or her point, that is their right. But they shouldn’t be able to simply say they are going to filibuster and go home for the weekend. They should have to stand there and make their argument to their colleagues and the country. That’s the kind of debate that the American people deserve and that’s the kind of debate that will help us get results.
I also believe we need to make the system more efficient by limiting the filibuster to actual votes on a bill, not motions to proceed to the bill. This would ensure that legislation that hasn’t been debated yet can’t be prematurely stonewalled by a single senator’s opposition.
Finally, I believe we should speed up the process for nomination votes. Currently every nomination is required to have at least 30 hours of debate. For actual bills, this debate time is normally used for discussing and voting on amendments — something that is not possible with nomination votes. Instead, senators often use this time during nominations to simply prevent the Senate from moving on to other important issues.
The country simply can’t afford this kind of obstruction any longer. There is too much at stake and too much work to be done. What we need now is action and accountability. That is what the American people deserve and that is what will move this country forward, and a few common-sense reforms to the Senate filibuster rules would go a long way to help put us on the right path.
Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minneapolis, is a United States senator.