Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the latest Democrat to argue an arcane Senate rule governing debate stands in the way of passing a progressive agenda, such as meaningful gun control.
The procedure, known as the filibuster, allows a 41-vote minority in the Senate to block legislation. Its power has been steadily eroding, however, as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers create procedures to get around the roadblock to pass everything from the Affordable Care Act to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees.
Should the Senate move even farther toward being a legislative body characterized by majority rule rather than minority obstruction?
Many Democrats, including me, might resist anything that helps Trump and his GOP Senate majority pass their agenda. Yet as a scholar of the Senate and advocate of responsible government, I believe the end of the 60-vote Senate would nonetheless be a good thing for the country – and conform to the founders’ intentions.
The Filibuster Explained
The filibuster, which comes from the Dutch word for pirate, is embodied in Senate Rule XXII. It says cloture – a motion to end debate on a bill – requires a supermajority of at least 60 votes on most matters under consideration.
Although some lawmakers argue the filibuster is what makes the Senate unique, a supermajority threshold is not what defines the legislative chamber.