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Four steps to fix the Senate

Posted Jan. 23, 2013 / Posted by: Erich Pica

It's time to reform Senate rules.

Throughout my career at Friends of the Earth, I have urged senators and their staff to use the parliamentary tools at their disposal -- threats or actual use of filibusters, anonymous holds, etc. -- in instances requiring a 60 vote majority in order to block legislation that we oppose. This method of obstructing harmful legislation was really helpful during the Bush administration, as we fought to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from exploitation, and delayed the passage of the Bush-Cheney energy plan for several years. But we always recognized that these tools should be used sparingly, because if overused, they can become dulled and useless.     

Unfortunately, times have changed. Republicans in the Senate have used the filibuster an unprecedented 359 times since 2006. During the previous 70 years, the filibuster was used only 385 times. The filibuster is now even being used to prevent the Senate, "the greatest deliberative body in the world," from bringing legislation to the floor for debate. The filibuster has been transformed into a tool that not only preserves the status quo but prevents the status quo from being challenged through the debate of legislation.

Friends of the Earth is supporting the work of a coalition that is asking for Senate rules reform. Our collective efforts are contained in the Senate Resolution 4 rules reform package and include four common sense reforms:  

1.  Clear path to debate:  Eliminate the filibuster on motions to proceed.  

2.  Ensure real debates:  End the silent filibuster.

3.  Expedite nominations:  Reduce post-cloture time.  

4.  Restore the conference process:  Eliminate the filibuster on motions to establish a conference committee.

We need to reform Senate rules in order to get important and long-awaited initiatives through the Senate. Important initiatives include climate change legislation, campaign finance reform, immigration reform, budget and tax policy that will help to level the playing field between the 98 percent and the 2 percent, as well as reform voting rules to make it easier to vote.   

At some point in the future, reforming Senate rules may make it harder to prevent bad, anti-environmental legislation from passing. If we accomplish some of the reforms that are currently being bottled up in the Senate, I am convinced that the American people and the democratic process will help ensure that a majority in the Senate continues to push for strong environmental and health policies.

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