Last night, Americans got a taste of an old-school filibuster, with a single senator refusing to yield the floor for 13 hours. Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan’s confirmation hearing certainly provided good political theater, and it drew some much-needed attention to an underreported issue. What many don’t know, however, is that Paul’s Jimmy Stewart moment is the exception rather than the rule in modern-day filibusters. Most filibusters these days are coordinated efforts by a minority, and they typically involve no talking at all. Rather, the minority simply refuses to vote to end debate. That move effectively kills a vote on a bill, which then in turn usually kills the bill itself.
Filibusters have become increasingly common. As my colleague Ben Landy shows, filibuster use has increased dramatically during periods of Republican minorities in the Senate.
The past three years have seen an average of a filibuster per day. Given these figures, it’s not so hard to see why the nation continues to lurch from one crisis to the next.
The Senate was never intended to act as a body that required 60 votes for conducting any routine business. It’s time to reform the filibuster and get the Senate back to the business of voting on laws.