Bayh’s Filibuster Reform Proposals

Evan Bayh

Evan Bayh, on his way out the door, has a variety of ideas for making the Senate work better. Most interesting are his filibuster proposals:

[F]ilibusters should require 35 senators to sign a public petition and make a commitment to continually debate an issue in reality, not just in theory. Those who obstruct the Senate should pay a price in public notoriety and physical exhaustion. That would lead to a significant decline in frivolous filibusters.

Filibusters should also be limited to no more than one for any piece of legislation. Currently, the decision to begin debate on a bill can be filibustered, followed by another filibuster on each amendment, followed by yet another filibuster before a final vote. This leads to multiple legislative delays and effectively grinds the Senate to a halt.

What’s more, the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster should be reduced to 55 from 60.

The middle paragraph highlights a point that I think doesn’t get enough attention—the amount of time-consuming delay that a minority smaller than 40 can create under the current rules. As for the rest, these are good ideas but I would prefer instead an alternative in use in the Maryland State Senate, the AssemblĂ© National of France, the Virginia House of Delegates, the United Nations General Assembly, and the US House of Representatives where you count the “yes” votes and you count the “no” votes and the side with more votes wins. It’s a pretty good decision-procedure! Especially for a system that has a number of other veto points.

But it’s good to see Bayh taking these issues up. I wish he would stay in the Senate and fight for his ideas as tenaciously as he’s fought for lower taxes on the children of multi-millionaires.