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Broken Congress: The Filibuster is Fixable

Congress is where great ideas go to die.

There’s plenty of smart folks in this country thinking up new ways to help lots of Americans. Once those ideas enter the Capitol, unfortunately, the only way they’re coming out is watered down and loaded up with special interest pork, if they make it out at all.

One of the biggest reasons for this gridlock is the systematic abuse of the filibuster we’ve seen in recent years. Now, bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate, and that’s 10 more senators that have to get their Cornhusker Kickback before we can make any real progress.

That’s because right now, all a senator has to do to shut down a bill is declare a filibuster, then walk away. There’s absolutely nothing to stop partisans from filibustering almost every bill—and that’s exactly what we saw in the 112th Congress, the least productive in history.

That’s why three reform-minded Senators, Tom Harkin, Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall, have proposed a return to the “talking filibuster.” If a senator wants to obstruct the legislative process, they should have to publicly stand by what they’re doing and pay the political price for it. Imagine if Strom Thurmond had the option of filibustering silently—he might never have been shamed into letting the Civil Rights Act pass.

Unfortunately, even these reformers’ great idea isn’t immune to watering down. Last week, a coalition of establishment senators proposed a much weaker set of rules reforms meant to scuttle the Harkin-Merkley-Udall package.

What’s troubling is that there is real momentum for stronger reform that would raise the stakes on a policy of obstruction, and it would be a shame to toss that aside with a temporary watered-down measure that won’t make filibustering any harder.  Without a talking filibuster requirement, these reforms simply maintains the status quo and would incentivize obstruction for obstruction’s sake.

That’s why today, Common Cause and our partners in the Fix The Senate coalition are holding a day of action. Do your part and pick up the phone right now and call 1-866-937-5062 to let your senator know that you want the talking filibuster. We’ve come too far to give up now — it’s time to make our voices heard.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to delay the filibuster reform vote by extending the Senate's first legislative day. This would push the filibuster reform vote until the week of January 22.]

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