Tuesday is shaping up as D-Day in the Senate's battle over the filibuster, with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell squaring off in a conflict that most Americans are ignoring but which has important implications for our government. Let's boil the dispute down to its essentials.
• The Senate is broken. Even routine business takes months to complete or can't be done at all because McConnell's Republicans, currently a minority, have exploited the filibuster rule to require the Democratic majority to muster 60 votes to act.
• Neither side has clean hands. Democrats have at times used other rules to keep Republicans from getting a vote or even debating on amendments to major legislation.
• Reid and McConnell don't get along. Each sees the other as hopelessly partisan and not-to-be-trusted.
• McConnell believes that under the guise of filibuster reform, Reid and the Democrats are about to do something VERY bad, forever staining the Senate both men profess to love.
• Reid says he doesn't want to do it, but that McConnell's deceit and Republican abuse of the filibuster generally gives him no other choice.
• McConnell says that if Reid and the Democrats proceed with their bad act, he and his Republicans will have no choice but to do something even worse, bringing to a halt what little work the Senate is getting done.
That's it. Two leaders, each threatening action he says would be destructive but insisting there's nothing he can do to prevent it.
This is what we've come to in what once was considered the world's premier legislative body. It didn't have to happen. And if both sides really want to step back from the abyss, they'll make the small reform Reid is finally proposing a first step toward a new set of rules that would give the Senate a chance to reclaim a place of honor among democratic institutions.
The fact is the filibuster "problem" is easy to solve, if both parties are willing to put aside short-term, partisan gain and act in the long-term interest of the Senate. Rather than adopting another half-step "gentlemen's agreement," they can write permanent rules ensuring that every senator has a right to propose amendments, protecting the minority's ability to engage in robust, lengthy debates AND allowing the majority elected by "we the people" to work its will.
If a majority of senators won't act to save themselves and the Senate, perhaps the courts can finally be persuaded to intervene to do the job. Common Cause has a lawsuit challenging the filibuster rule's constitutionality pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Senators who REALLY care about the Senate and the Constitution are welcome to join us.