Restoring majority rule to the U.S. Senate should be a matter of principle, not party.
Oregon's junior senator has adopted an audacious New Year's resolution. He aims at nothing less than restoring majority rule in the U.S. Senate.
Mention 'filibuster" to most people, and we see a Hollywood-glamorized image of a single stubborn senator, talking nonstop for hours to prevent a vote. Silencing the motor mouth required a supermajority of 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber.
The real-life practice of filibustering changed in recent years. A senator who wants to block action no longer has to commit marathon oratory. Now, the mere threat of a filibuster triggers the 60-vote requirement.
Consequently, the minority party needs just 41 votes to block progress. Even though President Barack Obama's party theoretically controls the Senate, the majority Democrats are hamstrung from passing laws or even confirming judicial nominations. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., notes that the Senate has seen more filibusters since 2006 than the total between 1920 and 1980.
Merkley and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., have waged a two-man war on frequent filibustering since 2011. They're pushing what Merkley calls a 'very modest" change in the rules. Ten senators, not just one, would be needed to launch a filibuster. A filibuster would have to be a real, old-fashioned talkathon, with senators speaking continuously on the Senate floor.
The crusade reportedly is gaining momentum. Seven newly elected senators have signed on, boosting Merkley and Udall toward the 51 votes they need. They'll have one chance, because this kind of change must be made when the new congressional session begins.
Republicans are threatening retribution if Democrats adopt the so-called 'nuclear option." But fixing the filibuster is a matter of principle, not party. When America's voters give either party a Senate majority, we expect that party to get some work done.