End anti-democratic rules

Get rid of dysfunctional Senate practices that create gridlock

Gary Francis offers a humorous take on the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate in his guest comment to the left, but that body’s problems are serious, beginning with the crisis now hitting the federal courts. Because of the Senate’s inaction on judicial nominees, there are nearly 100 vacancies on the federal bench, more than ever before, and justice is being delayed.

The problem is in the Senate rules, specifically secret holds and the filibuster. The former allow senators to anonymously block bills or confirmations of presidential nominations from reaching the floor for an unlimited time; the latter allows a party leader to keep a bill or nominee from an up-or-down vote simply by threatening a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overturn. As a result, the Senate has become the place where bills go to die.

Every two years, at the beginning of a congressional session, the two houses have the power to choose the rules governing their procedures. Efforts are under way in the Senate to reform the anti-democratic filibuster and secret-holds rules. This is a good time to do so. The parties are close to parity in numbers, so the tables could turn at any time and the Republicans find themselves in the majority.

Americans don’t respect Congress these days, and the Senate’s dysfunctional rules are a big part of the reason for that. By changing those rules on Jan. 5, the Senate could go a long way toward restoring our confidence in what’s often called “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”