Let's just scrap the filibuster and keep it simple
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The word "filibuster" has always conjured up in my mind negative connotations.

Before the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the filibuster was the prime instrument used to block any legislation that would grant African-Americans the full rights of citizenship that all white Americans enjoyed.

Southern Senators, all Democrats at the time, knew the filibuster worked. Their side would win and their opponents would lose when they used it. They attempted to elevate its image by saying that it was a worthy Senate tradition. The Senate was to act as the cooling agent to the more rash and impulsive House of Representatives.

To stop a filibuster or end debate, the Senate had to invoke cloture, quite a high numerical hurdle. It now requires 60 votes; before that, the vote requirement was even higher: 66.

As you might've guessed, all this talk about the filibuster has to do with President Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

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Democrats in the Senate, led by Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers Senate Dems race to save Menendez in deep-blue New Jersey MORE (N.Y.), have said they will use this weapon to deny Gorsuch's confirmation. There are 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats in the Senate, so Schumer and leadership hope no more than seven Democrats vote with all 52 Republicans to confirm Gorsuch.

 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials ratchet up fight over drug pricing | McConnell says Republicans could try again on ObamaCare repeal | Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel MORE (R-Ky.) has threatened to break with Senate tradition and do away with the 60-vote threshold, requiring only a simple majority to invoke cloture.

That has been termed the "nuclear option."

In light of that, there is a great deal of talk and newspaper editorializing (by The Washington Post, for example) proposing a "deal."

It would be the following: Democrats would agree to have a straight up-or-down vote on Gorsuch and there would be no filibuster. By agreeing to this proposal, Democrats would be allowed to use the filibuster for the next nominee to the Supreme Court if a vacancy occurs during Trump's presidency.

The rationale for this deal is that since Gorsuch is just replacing the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, the ideological balance of the court will not be fundamentally changed with Gorsuch's addition. Justice Anthony Kennedy continues to be the swing vote in what is now viewed as a 4-4 split between liberals and conservatives.

Since the nominee for the next vacancy will determine the ideological future of the court, the "deal" allows the higher standard of the filibuster for such a momentous vote.

But we should reject this deal and the rationale behind it. Each party's hands are not clean in this entire process.

In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMajor overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees GOP has always been aggressive in trying to weaponize the system of judicial nominations MORE (D-Nev.) did away with the filibuster because he wanted to fill federal judge vacancies (especially circuit court openings) that were being stalled by the Republican minority.

The move was brazenly opportunistic and totally partisan. Quite simply, Reid wanted the federal judiciary to be populated by individuals who side with the Democratic Party's principles and policies. He exempted the Supreme Court from his decision solely because it gave his move a patina of legitimacy.

But let's stop playing games. Let's call the filibuster what it is: A tactical political weapon that each party will use when it finds it to be convenient and necessary.

Let's just do away with it in its entirety. The result will be that decisions on all personnel and all legislation would be done by simple majority vote.

(Just to be clear: I am not talking about eliminating all supermajority requirements, such as those needed to approve constitutional amendments, ratify treaties or override presidential vetos. Just the filibuster.)

Dare I say it? The Senate should emulate the House, where 218 is the magic number. Correspondingly, 51 should be the magic number in the Senate.

In the Senate, the filibuster actually increases partisanship and polarization, since Democrats feel the pressure to vote in total unison, as so do Republicans. That does not allow for negotiation or compromise.

There are independent-minded senators in each party who are perfectly suited to break with their party and vote their convictions and conscience. In the GOP, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms Comey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Five things to know about 'MBS,' Saudi Arabia's crown prince MORE (S.C.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSusan Collins and the mob mentality Graham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh St. Lawrence alumni, faculty want honorary degree for Collins revoked MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEx-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge Flake on Kavanaugh confirmation: To see GOP 'spiking the ball in the end zone' doesn't seem right MORE (Alaska) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOn The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference GOP senator: Not 'appropriate' for Mnuchin to go to Saudi conference MORE (Ariz.) come to mind. For the Democrats, Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump Jr. to campaign in West Virginia for Manchin challenger Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit on pre-existing conditions Credit union group to spend .8 million for vulnerable Dem, GOP incumbents MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPoll: Dem Donnelly has 4-point lead in Indiana Senate race Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Heitkamp: Staffer no longer with campaign after ad naming abuse victims MORE (N.D.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia MORE (Mont.) and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel People have forgotten 'facade' of independent politicians, says GOP strategist Senate poised to confirm Kavanaugh after bitter fight MORE of Maine (an actual independent, but one who caucuses with Democrats).

The world's greatest deliberative body, as the Senate is often called, should inspire its members to be free agents, not to be bound by party discipline. This recent controversy should be the last time we as a nation have to endure this duplicitous game.

It should not always be about winning or evening the score (as the Democrats are now trying to do, since Republicans refused to hold hearings on President Obama's last nominee to the Supreme Court).

Without the filibuster, senators in each party would be required to work the other side of the aisle — to find new friends; to convert foes and make them allies. Every bill and every appointment should be voted on the merits. That's how a functioning democracy is supposed to work.

Doing away with the filibuster forever in all situations would produce a big win for democracy — something we surely need.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner. Previously, he was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington's NPR affiliate, where he co-hosted the "D.C. Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin." He later became the political analyst for WTOP-FM, Washington's all-news radio station, where he hosted "The Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin." He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.


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