Congress is less popular than lice, colonoscopies and Genghis Khan, according to a brilliant survey by Public Policy Polling earlier this year. Dysfunctional is the word that most often comes to mind.
So you’d think a modest tweak of hidebound rules in the U.S. Senate would be embraced as self-preservation, if not good governance.
Instead, the Senate on Tuesday appeared willing to delay, once again, long-overdue reform of the filibuster. The filibuster has been the sand in the gears of governance, easily invoked by minority senates of both parties, with little immediate consequence but long-term damage to the public’s perception of Congress.
On executive nominees alone — President Obama’s picks to head top-level jobs — Republicans have filibustered 16 times. In contrast, executive nominees were filibustered 20 times in the past 60 years . Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been held up for two years.
The filibuster is the weapon of the minority. The rhythms of electoral politics — Democrats ceding control to Republicans ceding control to Democrats and so on — has weakened the political will for reform.
On Tuesday, it was the Democrats caving. They cut a deal to get through a handful of stalled nominees, including Fred Hochberg as president of the Export-Import Bank. His appointment is critical for our trade-dependent region because Boeing is the biggest beneficiary of the bank’s activities.
Good for us, but the easing of immediate pressure shouldn’t distract from the absurd overuse of the filibuster. There are currently about 100 vacancies among federal judicial appointments as Republicans filibuster nominees. That compares with about 40 at the same point in George W. Bush’s presidency.
Once a filibuster is threatened, there are no all-night speeches — a la Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis in her running shoes and back brace — required. Senate rules allow the threat of filibusters and require 60 voters to break them.
Inside the Beltway, filibuster reform — allowing filibusters to be broken with a simple majority — is known as the “nuclear option.”
Outside the Beltway, that’s called an election.