The Time Has Come To Eliminate The Filibuster

I am sure that many of us have seen the classic 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It was a movie about a naïve young man appointed to fill a vacancy in the Senate. The lead character, Jefferson Smith is played by Jimmy Stewart and the movie was directed by Frank Capra. There is a climactic scene at the end of the movie where Mr. Smith conducts a filibuster on the floor of the Senate in support of a bill authorizing the government to buy some land in his state for a boy’s camp. But a corrupt political machine had already rigged the vote against the project because they wanted the land for their own purposes. I won’t spoil the movie, but this movie is a classic “feel good” movie.

But the reality of the filibuster is radically different than in the movie. The idea of the filibuster was to prevent a “tyranny of the majority” to slow down legislation. It was to allow more consideration before finally voting on the measure. Under the old Senate rules, those participating in the filibuster had to “hold the floor” continuously and the Senate had to remain in session with the leadership in attendance. There were no recesses allowed since a recess would end the filibuster. Often a filibuster ended when Senators just gave in to exhaustion and boredom.

Now, just the threat of a filibuster is enough to stop the Senate in its tracks or to sidetrack the proposed legislation and allow it to die without ever bringing it up for a vote. It takes a supermajority of 60 votes to stop a filibuster and allow a vote on the proposed legislation. Now days, just the threat of a filibuster is enough to kill proposed legislation.

Since 2009 when Barack Obama was elected President the filibuster has been “weaponized” to kill much needed legislation or to prevent the confirmation of federal judges which are appointed by the President. During the eight years of the Obama presidency, the filibuster was used more times than in all the previous years beginning in 1789. The Senate had to change their rules so that important budget bills could be approved with only a majority vote in the Senate. That also includes bills cutting taxes.

In 2015 Senate rules were changed so federal judges could be confirmed with only a simple majority vote because of the large number of vacancies on the federal bench. Supreme Court nominees could still be filibustered. Then, in 2017 when Donald Trump became President, the Senate rules were changed again to prevent filibusters for Supreme Court nominees.

For all practical purposes, the filibuster has been abused to the point where it has prevented the congress from enacting much needed legislation. Because it takes a super majority of 60 votes to end a filibuster, it discourages a minority party from working with the majority party on important legislation and makes compromises near impossible.

As a result, there is seldom any meaningful debate on a bill before the Senate where the minority party can offer amendments or input their ideas into any proposed legislation. Now, largely because of the abuse of the filibuster, important or popular legislation cannot be passed. This creates the hyper partisanship that has divided the country.

No political party has ever had a permanent majority in the congress, and it is very likely that party control of congress will be changing more frequently in the future. Therefore, it is important that the parties work together to get bipartisan support and not adopt such rigid positions on proposed legislation.

As far as I am concerned the filibuster has outlived its usefulness and should be eliminated or at least require that the Senators participating in a filibuster be present and talking continuously while the Senate is in constant session without any recesses. Maybe they will make their point or come to some compromise and get something passed besides gas.

Because of the abuse of the filibuster, our government has become dysfunctional and resembles the government of a banana republic more than a world superpower. There are many important things that our government needs to address and we must fix this broken part of our government. The time has come to eliminate the filibuster. The Senate shouldn’t become a graveyard for legislation.

Lee Kamps

Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 11:58 AM, 04.02.2021