Time for New Beginnings in Washington
In the new year, Senate must work to end dysfunction in elected government
The new year provides people the opportunity to have a new beginning, a second start. For many people, goals are focused on all of the things that people said they would do the year before and didn’t accomplish. Losing weight, staying connected with friends and family, going to church more, getting a new job or paying off debt are all things that people resolve to do starting Jan. 1.
The common theme, however, is getting more done. People see the New Year as a chance to be more effective and complete what they intend to. Congress has a few things that they should be focused on before the new year gets here – specifically making sure that tax cuts for middle- and working-class Americans and unemployment insurance are extended. But the work doesn’t end there. There are lots of things on the agenda for the next few years. For the U.S. Senate, the new beginning is an opportunity to make a resolution to be more effective.
On the first day of Congress, the Senate can vote to change the rules to make the legislative body function the way it should rather than the way it has been. During the 111th and 112th Congresses, the Senate filibustered more than ever before. The filibuster is a tool that is useful within the Senate but like many tools, when misused can cause dysfunction. As it has been used recently, the filibuster prevents a vote or even debate without obtaining 60 votes and threatens any legislative action by a body whose function is debating and passing sensible legislation. It has essentially been used to block legislation.
In more recent years, many bills that had bipartisan support in the House couldn’t even be debated, much less voted on in the Senate because of the filibuster. Bills that have been blocked by filibuster include the DREAM Act, Employee Free Choice Act, Bring Jobs Home Act, and many others. Garrett Epps wrote in "The Atlantic" that “a legislative body that cannot bring itself even to vote on 400 bills really is not a legislative body at all – it is a graveyard, where self-government staggers off to die.” This is what the Senate has allowed the filibuster to do to its legislative powers.
Unless the Senate reforms its rules on the first day of its convening, we can expect yet another session of dying bills. At a time when partisanship seems to be at an all-time high and there are senators who have verbally committed themselves to ruining the president and his legacy, there should be no faith that gamesmanship won’t stymie productive legislative work. When senators don’t want a bill to advance, they don’t even have to be present in order to stop it through a filibuster; they can simply be in the cloak room having a cup of coffee and prevent the bill from progressing. The solution or resolution should be to vote for Senate Rules Reform on January 3.
Sensible filibustering is needed and should be encouraged. The National Action Network has signed on to support sensible Senate Rules Reform through Fix The Senate Now. We have seen what partisanship can do to the legislative process. Come Jan. 1, we’ll all be hoping we haven’t fallen off the fiscal cliff and that middle- and working-class Americans have been protected. But the resolve must be on making bills with bipartisan support pass into sensible laws. It’s a new beginning and there’s always hope for change.