Instructor: Cyndi Pauwels
December 11, 2012
U. S. Government Flawed
To say any form of government is flawless would be highly opinionated. To say every form of government has flaws would almost be a known fact. With each individual flaw comes an endless amount of possibilities to remedy the problem. The United States Government is flawed; however, there are multiple possibilities to fix the numerous problems ranging anywhere from being very subtle to a drastic and complete overhaul to a 236-year-old government. Filibuster reform and the parliamentary system are the two propositions being made to fix the United States Government, but neither one is a one-stop fix-it-all solution.
The filibuster is not in the Constitution nor was it ever apart of the original design of the Senate; it was a mistake. In 1789, the House of Representatives and Senate rulebooks were nearly identical. Both rulebooks had what is known as the “previous question” motion, which gives a simple majority the power to cut off debate and go to vote. In 1805, Vice President Aaron Burr offered his advice to the Senate to get rid of the previous question motion. When the Senate met in 1806, they dropped the motion from their rulebook. It wasn’t until 1837 that the very first filibuster was used.
There is no pressure in the Senate itself to abolish the filibuster (until recently); however, it has been reformed in the past. In 1917, the tradition of an unlimited debate ended when the Senate adopted the cloture. Between 1919 and 1975, a successful cloture motion (the procedure used to break a filibuster) required two-thirds vote of the Senate. Today, it requires three-fifths, or, in cases where all 100 senators are present and voting, 60 votes. For the Senate to hold a cloture vote takes approximately about 30 hours of floor time. The filibuster has become more of a constant in the Senate compared to before where it was a rarity.
The two benefits that a filibuster brings to the Senate are that it arms every senator the power to end debate in exchange for voting. The second benefit is that a filibuster helps flag controversial issues for the public. Jim DiPeso, the policy director for Republicans for Environmental Protection, explains more on the benefit of a filibuster:
The filibuster puts a check on one-party power. As such, it can slow down or prevent abuses. The filibuster might, for example, be a good way to stop Democrats from using environmental legislation as an excuse for unrestricted federal spending on government programs that benefit a particular congressional district but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers (i.e., pork-barrel projects) (1).
DiPeso goes on to say that, “It is also the Senate’s purpose to carry out its constitutional mission to cool the political passions and guard against poorly considered legislation by the House of Representatives… I’m just saying that a filibuster-proof Senate is generally not a good thing, for either side of the aisle”(2).
Although a filibuster can be beneficial, most of the time it is abused by senators to delay the productive passage of legislation and bring government progress to a grinding halt. David Swanson, a reporter, communications director, and activist, shares a different side to the filibuster:
The filibuster—the use of obstructional tactics such as long speeches to delay or prevent legislative action—is an undemocratic legislative tool. It allows senators representing a small minority of the country to block the majority will. The Senate, which enacts its own rules of conduct, should abolish the practice. At the very least, the Senate should change the rule that allows the breaking of a filibuster from a three-fifths vote to a simple majority vote. (1)
Swanson also states that, “Filibustering no longer requires giving long speeches and it only requires threatening to do so…The use of such threats has exploded over the past 10 years, dominating the