Time to change the rules -- and play by them
The most recent session of the U.S. Senate was the least productive in its modern history. Even though there was much pressing business, the Senate managed to pass fewer than 3 percent of its legislation.
Perverse misuse of the filibuster rule has made it permanent and created minority rule in the Senate. Nearly 18 percent of all Senate votes over the course of the last two years were to break filibusters. The device has become an instrument of mere obstruction rather than a device to ensure minority participation.
The Senate's first order of business when it convenes for a new session next week should be to alter the filibuster rule. Several proposals are on the table but some in the minority claim that any change would require a two-thirds vote.
A letter to the Senate from a broadly diverse group of constitutional scholars, led by Charles Fried, solicitor general of the Reagan administration, debunks that notion. The Constitution makes no mention of the filibuster and prescribes no mechanism for Senate rules changes, other than leaving it to the Senate, they pointed out. The group also cited substantial precedent, and said that the existing rule requiring a two-thirds vote is to prevent mid-session rules changes.
"The standing two-thirds requirement for altering the Senate's rules is a sensible effort at preventing changes to the rules in the midst of a game. It cannot, however, prevent the Senate, at the beginning of a new game, from adopting rules deemed necessary to permit the just, efficient and orderly operation of the 113th Senate," the scholars wrote.
At least 51 senators should heed that advice and adopt a rule that allows the chamber to attend to the people's business.