Filibuster Reform and the House of Lords

120px-James_Stewart_in_Mr._Smith_Goes_to_Washington_trailer_2_crop.JPGFrustration with the health care debate is reaching a crescendo.  If you turn on C-Span 2 right now, you’ll see the Senate clerk reading an amendment to the bill in its entirety. That will go on all day (it’s 750 pages long) because Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) refused to give unanimous consent to treating the amendment as read. Filibuster old school style!

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) wants to introduce an amendment to the rules that would transform the filibuster from an absolute veto into a suspensive one.  In other words, the refusal to invoke cloture could only delay a final vote on legislation for, say, a month or two in a given Congress.  I’m not keen on this with respect to legislation (though I think it makes sense for the executive calender, as I explained in a prior post).  It seems to me that major legislation such as health care really ought to have more than a bare majority in each house of Congress (whether by norm or by rule).

Nevertheless, there is a parallel with what happened to the House of Lords in Britain.  The Lords used to be equal to the House of Commons.  The Parliament Act of 1911, though, provided that a bill could only be delayed by the Lords for two years within a given Parliament (i.e., the House of Commons could reenact a bill and it would become law without the assent of the Lords if a general election did not intervene).  Later that delaying period was reduced to one year. It is still possible, however, for the Lords to kill a bill at the end of a parliamentary session by doing nothing.  Perhaps the filibuster will evolve in a similar way.

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