Forget President Obama's health care reconciliation. The real abuse of power is the filibuster.
The debate over healthcare reform should have been about doctors, patients, insurance and drug companies, and coverage. Instead, much of the attention has been focused on a “preexisting condition” in the Senate: the filibuster.
A filibuster allows a senator to delay or defeat legislation through endless talk – or merely the threat of it. That gives the minority breathtaking power to cause gridlock and discredit the majority by stopping it from pursuing the program it was elected on. That is exactly what 41 Senate Republicans are doing to 59 Democrats right now.
The filibuster has become so potent a political weapon that President Obama is reportedly approving the use of the controversial “reconciliation” process to pass healthcare reform. Under this method, Democrats could turn the reform bill into law with a simple majority of senators instead of the 60 now needed to end a filibuster. Critics are calling reconciliation an “abuse of power,” “undemocratic,” and “the nuclear option.” The real undemocratic abuse of power, however, is the present way in which the filibuster is used.
While the use of a simple majority through reconciliation to pass legislation would restore constitutional sanity to the Senate, it does not go far enough. The Senate should rewrite the filibuster rule entirely. Full and thorough debate should be preserved, but the unconstitutional practice of requiring supermajorities to pass important legislation must be ended.
Many of us first learned about the filibuster in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
In that classic film, the filibuster is our quintessential American hero Sen. Jefferson Smith’s last hope of stopping corruption and symbolically saving the American republic.
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