California's senators need to be solidly behind filibuster reform.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apparently is close to having majority support for serious changes in rules that make it too easy for the minority party, now the Republicans, to paralyze the Senate. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are not yet committed to supporting any specific plan. By the time the Senate reconvenes this month, both should be backing Reid on sensible rules that foster, rather than block, debate on matters of importance to Americans.
The key is reviving the talking filibuster. If senators want to block a vote, they should have to stand up and talk for hours, around the clock, to delay it -- a threshold that makes the filibuster something to use sparingly, for the most important or heartfelt issues, as it was for most of the nation's history.
Boxer's office says she agrees this is needed. Feinstein says she's considering it, but she seems most interested in reaching a bipartisan compromise -- and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is not likely to accept a talking filibuster, which is pretty much the nuclear option.
Feinstein has said that she's worried about imposing rules because it could prompt Republicans to retaliate if they gained the control of the Senate. Oh, come on -- does anyone really think Republicans would let the Democrats get away with what they've been doing?
The filibuster has been massively abused under McConnell, used against 130 bills per session, double what the Democrats did when they were last in the minority.
Today, all the minority party has to do is threaten a filibuster and force a cloture vote of 60 percent before a topic can even be raised for debate. The same piece of legislation can be filibustered over and over; 60 votes have to be gathered at each step, and even popular legislation can be delayed endlessly. This is the kind of gridlock that destroys people's respect for their government.
The most egregious abuse of the rule has been to prevent judicial nominations from even coming to the Senate floor. This is the pettiest of politics. Dozens of nominations are stalled, awaiting confirmation, and 77 vacancies on the federal bench are causing a huge backlog of cases. That is a very real hardship for Americans of both parties seeking justice through the courts.
Feinstein's only commitment on filibuster reform so far is to ban filibusters to prevent a bill or a judicial nomination from even coming to the floor for debate. That's important, but without making filibusters more burdensome to carry out, it won't change anything. They can still stop a vote on each nominee.
Reid seems intent on accomplishing real reform. California's Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer should have his back.