David Frum

01.25.13

The British Model for Filibuster Reform

A friend writes in that we should emulate the British example on filibuster reform:

Most of the past filibuster reform proposals consisted of simply shrinking the size of the supermajority required to end debate on a given bill.

I propose we Yanks take a leaf from the British Parliament's playbook of just over a century ago.

I'm sure you know the story...after the deeply conservative (and still mostly hereditary) House of Lords rejected the Liberal Party's "People's Budget" of 1909, the Commons passed, just 2 years later (after the King hinted that he might be persuaded to appoint enough new peers to override the die-hards) a law which set a maximum amount of TIME wherein the Lords could delay a bill. The Parliament Act of 1911 set the maximum time at which a given bill could be voted down by the Lords at 3 sessions of Parliament, or two calendar years. This delaying period was later shortened to two sessions of Parliament, or one calendar year.

It's easy to forget, in our frustration, that when the Senate moves slowly on passing big measures, it is only doing what it was designed to do. Minority rights matter a lot in a body which was supposed to be a firewall against the haste and folly of popular sentiment.

However, when the minority can block necessary measures year after year as far as the eye can see, we no longer have calm deliberation, but tyranny of the minority. The US Constitution - which gives equal Senate representation to both New York and Wyoming - enables rural, sparsely populated states to essentially dictate the agenda for entire country. This is a great evil, and it must stop.

So...allow the minority to filibuster a bill, and, potentially, even to kill one. But not forever. Say, for two election cycles, max?