01/22/2013 05:48 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Fix the Filibuster

For years the Republican minority in the U.S. Senate has used a perverse interpretation of the traditional filibuster to sabotage the workings of that body, create government gridlock, and thwart the will of the majority of the American people. The intent of the filibuster is to allow senators who have serious arguments against a piece of legislation to have unlimited opportunity to express those views in person on the Senate floor for as long as their stamina permits. Many of us have seen James Stewart exercise this privilege in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Clearly, it serves a useful purpose in ensuring that minority viewpoints are heard and slowing down legislation that might be ill-advised.

Unfortunately, that is not how the filibuster has functioned in recent years. Current rules allow the mere threat of a filibuster to bring proposed legislation to a grinding halt. Members are not required to bring their bodies and their ideas onto the Senate floor so that their colleagues and the public can judge the cogency of their arguments against a particular piece of legislation or witness the amount of effort they are willing to expend in making their case. This is contrary to the intent of the filibuster and needs to be changed urgently. It is one thing to have checks and balances but an entirely different matter when arcane rules are used for purely partisan obstructionism.

There is a lot wrong with the way our government functions right now -- pay-to-play politics, gerrymandering of electoral districts, voter suppression, the electoral college, the list goes on -- all of which will need to be remedied, if our democracy is to function the way it is supposed to. But, the filibuster can be fixed right now, by majority vote, at the beginning of current term and we need to insist that it is. Otherwise, we face at least another two years of obstruction and dysfunction.

Why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would even hesitate the change the Senate's rules regarding the use of the filibuster is both puzzling and disturbing. He and his Democratic colleagues failed to do it when they last had the opportunity two years ago, reportedly on account of some deal between Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. That deal has cost the country dearly on account of the government gridlock the Republicans took every opportunity to create. It cost us the public option in the health care reform legislation, seriously weakened the financial regulation that was passed, and prevented the DREAM Act from even reaching the Senate floor. This must not continue.

Contact your senators and demand that the filibuster be fixed by restoring it to its original form -- the "talking filibuster." Tell them you do not support the McCain/Levin proposed change since that would not remedy the problem.