Sunday, November 25, 2012

One justification for filibuster abuse

Use of the filibuster by Senators has surged in recent years for many reasons: hyperpartisanship, ideological separation of the parties, a loss of civility, and the lure of publicity for radical obstructionists. Defenders of the filibuster,after citing  "Senate traditions" and the dangers of tyranny by the majority, have one practical and little noticed argument in their favor -- the increased use of "filling the amendment tree."

This practice, by the majority leader, prevents the minority from offering their own alternatives to pending legislation. As a New York Times article today shows, this tactic has also surged in recent years. Of course, some of the frustrated amendments were politically embarrassing or designed to split the majority, but the minority still felt that its power had been thwarted, thus making use of the filibuster feel more reasonable.

Both sides need to back down. The filibuster should be preserved but its use limited; the minority should be given opportunities to offer a few genuine alternatives; and obstructionists should have to bear the discomforts of prolonged debate.

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