The United States Senate is broken. Senators themselves have a chance to fix it, starting today.
Most people could agree that an effective Senate would have these basic features, among others:
Majority rules, but the minority cannot be steamrolled into not having a say. And senators would actually debate and vote on major legislation.
But that's not how it works, thanks to arcane rules that have been abused in recent years. In the U.S. Senate, the majority does not rule. The minority does, and sometimes a single senator blocks the other 99 from taking a vote.
That grinds the Senate to a halt. Good legislation, like ensuring the public's food supply is safe, stalls. Good nominees, like Judge Albert Diaz of Charlotte, linger in limbo for a year while the federal judiciary toils in a staffing crisis. No wonder the public has little faith in Congress.
The filibuster and secret holds are at the root of all this. A single senator can put an anonymous hold on nominations and block what would be a near-unanimous vote without the senator ever revealing his reasons or even his identity.
Senators are abusing the filibuster. They used it more than 90 times in the past two years, by far the most of any Congress in history. According to Common Cause President Bob Edgar, the threat of or actual use of the filibuster affected 70 percent of all legislation the past two years, compared with 8 percent in the 1960s.
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