03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bust The Filibuster

Now is the time -- and it's not too late -- to improve the bad health insurance bill passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve. The Senate can simultaneously provide a valuable public service -- bust the filibuster and consign it to history.

As has been said, "Elections have consequences". In a democracy, the majority rules -- within bounds. The "people's House" has passed a good -- not great -- health insurance bill, which is a good start and can be built upon later. A majority of the Senate would likely follow the House, but the filibuster is being played cynically by a small group of Senators (those Democrats and Democratically-aligned Senators, numerically between 50 and 60) to bend majority rule to a super-small minority rule. This is undemocratic, anti-democratic, and just a plain insane way to make public policy. And it is unnecessary. Dumping the filibuster would further democratize a nation that has evolved its democracy from the start.

John Burton, a former Democratic Congressman and powerful California state senator, once told by a witness at a Sacramento hearing that the bill under consideration was unconstitutional, said "we pass unconstitutional legislation all the time, that's what courts are for". And the courts are very undemocratic -- federal judges (all of them, not just Supreme Court justices) are appointed for life, and their compensation cannot be reduced once in office. They can only be removed by impeachment, same as the President. Thus, one of the three branches of government is, by design, anti-democratic. The Senate (one-half of the legislative branch of government) itself was all-appointed until passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913. The filibuster continues the tradition of undemocratic rule.

Senators have had the power to stop legislation cold with the filibuster; from nobody (that's right, no one -- prior to 1917, filibusters could not be ended at all) to the 2/3 "cloture" rule that was enacted at the start of the 1918 session of Congress, to the 1975 change that made the 2/3 rule a 3/5 rule, where it stands today. There have been efforts to simply get rid of the filibuster. All efforts failed, but, as above, it has been changed over the years. It is now time to dump it onto the ash bin of history. In 2005, when Democratic Senators were filibustering George W. Bush judicial nominees, then-Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened the "nuclear option" to end the 3/5 rule and approve judges by simple majority vote. The "Gang of 14" prevented that, but the filibuster came close to meeting its end there.

What is to stop the Senate from dumping the filibuster? Nothing. Past Senates cannot bind future/current Senates -- they can change their rules at will. And mark my words, one day Senate Republicans will end the filibuster -- they will "go nuclear" -- since they know how to actually use power, unlike the spineless Democrats, who are too craven to fight for their beliefs.

Now, on an issue so historic, so important to America, as health insurance reform, 218 members of the House (including more than 80 members of the Progressive Caucus) and 50 Democratic Senators are being forced to swallow corporate welfare in the form of the current Senate bill - all shoved down their throats by a tiny group of Senators.

Finally, the filibuster, as with so many other Senate rules, is being abused by the Republicans. When Senators routinely put "holds" on bills and nominees (like Jim DeMint of South Carolina holding up the TSA nominee due to fears of unionization) it is time to revamp Senate rules. To those who argue "tradition" we say: 'Just who is the boss here -- is the Senate funded by our taxes, to make public policy for us, or are we slaves to a hidebound Senate with antiquated rules and procedures?' So, when 40 Republicans (no "Gang of 14" here) vote as a block to filibuster the health insurance bill, opportunists like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson take full advantage. Poor Bernie Sanders, Russ Feingold and others (who could play the same tactic as Lieberman/Nelson) are so intent on getting health care to millions of the needy; they are having their own good hearts used against them by the cynical Senators who are too heartless to care. The uninsured are being held hostage by Lieberman and Nelson (and a few others) with the threat of nothing, unless their demands are met. We can think of no better time to turn the tables, change the rules, make the Liebermans irrelevant, dump the filibuster and get 50 good or good enough Senators to vote for the guts of the House bill. It is time.