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The ITT List

Friday, Mar 6, 2009, 9:26 am

End the Filibuster!

By Jeremy Gantz

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Even if Al Franken is finally seated as the junior senator from Minnesota, Democrats in that "august body" will still number only 59. Close, but no cigar: Thanks to the Senate's maddening supermajority rule for ending filibusters, Democrats will still remain one person short of being able to do pass anything undiluted by Senate Republicans.

It may seem like an arcane procedural issue to some, which is exactly what Republicans (and Dems) would like all Americans to think. Given the fact that the filibuster is as fixed in the American political cosmos as the constitution or the first amendment.

It is not, as George Kenney's short and sweet editorial in the LA Times yesterday details. (Kenney is the host of the frequently great podcast Electric Politics.) Robert Parry, in a guest ITT column a few weeks ago, also tackled this topic.

The filibuster is not an arcane issue: it is a basic roadblock to legislative action. Given our current economic crisis, that means it may be the major obstacle to meaningful government action. The stimulus bill barely squeaked through the chamber, thanks to Maine's two senators and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Other bills are not so lucky.

Yes, the filibuster may be a Senate tradition. But given our deepening crisis, let's dispense with it to let majority party rule – recommended by a clear majority of voters last November – actually take place.

I should note though, that plenty of Democratic Senators – some with vivid memories of being in the minority after 1994's major Republican victory – oppose abolishing the filibuster. Huffington Post offers a great primer on why here. Even Bernie Sanders says he hasn't thought much about it.

Sure, Dems only need one more Senator to make this whole debate obsolete (at least until the next election). And let's hope that happens very soon. But that won't change the fact that the filibuster is inherently undemocratic, an elitist tool that should be ended. Yes, it might come in handy if/when Dems become the minority Senate party. But why shouldn't a party suffer when they can't convince a majority of Americans to support their platform and policies?

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

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