The Non-Functioning Legislative Process:Let Them Filibuster
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Leaving aside the vital and crucial role that the President plays in the legislative process, the constitutional forum within laws are made in the U.S. is supposed to be the Congress. Over the past few years there has been a very clear reluctance on the part of the Members of Congress to perform their jobs. While this has come about largely because of ideological battles within the Republican Party and vis-à-vis the Democrats in Congress, nevertheless, there are two procedural battles being waged and contemplated at this time which are a complete repudiation of the roles which legislators ought to be performing in the American Government. While there are many examples, it is specifically concerning the filibuster that both parties are operating foolishly and are failing to even gain a political advantage from their obstructive behavior.
It seems that the Republican Party is no longer prepared merely to vote against a bill they oppose or even to speak out against such a bill—even filibustering against it; there is now actually a group of 14 Republican Senators including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who are seeking to filibuster against the very motion which would permit gun control legislation even to be debated on the Senate Floor. Forget about whether they oppose the bill or proposals within and fear it could pass with a simple majority, this core of Republicans do not even want to have the issue debated. Regardless of whether one supports or opposes increased restrictions on how, when, where, by whom, etc., guns may be used in the country, it is readily apparent to the National Rifle Association and its supporters in Congress that the American people, after the Newtown massacre, want change. They know that if debated some bill will emerge from the Senate. Their solution, which Majority Leader Harry Reid now is opposing, is not to let the debate begin.
This brings us to the other side of the insane abuse of the legislative process. Democrats should cease avoiding to let the opposing side engage in an actual filibuster; as they did with Senator Rand Paul against the Brennan nomination to be CIA Director. To date Democrats have counted heads and when they did not have the votes to invoke cloture (60 votes to cut off debate) they did not let the filibuster continue. They refused to realize that permitting their opponents to talk themselves silly will ultimately—in the current climate—make the Republicans eventually lose the debate, the vote, and lose seats in the 2014 elections.
While it might be a political gamble, a few days—or even weeks–of non-stop debate in the Senate could be a major coup for the Democrats; but it requires leadership which like Obama in the White House the Democrats in Congress have not demonstrated. The debate over gun control, and eventually immigration, tax reform, Medicare, and Social Security should all be hung out by the Democrats for the country to watch as Republican refuse to vote on the bills, let alone to try to construct reasonable compromises. If the opposition to legislating is a filibuster let the speech-making begin and watch the public’s reaction.