Maybe there’s something about retirement that helps “moderate” senators gain some perspective on filibusters. Two years ago, after then-Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) announced the end of his Senate career, he became an articulate supporter of institutional reforms, most notably involving filibusters.
This year, Sen. Olympia Snowe is wrapping up her career, and as Suzy Khimm reported, the Maine Republican is also willing to “do something to fix the political deadlock and dysfunction that drove her to retire in the first place.”
“I’ve been sorting through the aspects, procedurally, that contribute to locking down the process,” Snowe said. First and foremost: abuse of the filibuster.
In her final months in office, Snowe is now talking to some of her Senate colleagues – Democrats, she says – about what, if any, procedural reforms could deter the chamber from turning routine votes into weapons of mass political destruction…. The minority side’s use of cloture has “increased exponentially, especially compared to the last three Congresses,” Snowe lamented.
If memory serves, Snowe has killed a lot of worthwhile legislation by joining her party in filibusters, but if she’s now open to reforming the broken process, I’m delighted.
Snowe’s comments, incidentally, come just two weeks after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a traditionalist who’s resisted changes to the way the chamber operates, also expressed support for institutional reforms.
Of course, the devil is in the details. Snowe may lament what’s become of the Senate process, but what, exactly, is she prepared to do about it?
Khimm’s report suggests the retiring senator isn’t thinking big.
Snowe is now looking at ways that Senate procedure could be reformed to help alleviate partisan gridlock. “I’m doing some research on how cloture has been used” since it was put into effect in 1917, she explains. In classic Snowe form, her hope is to try to find a procedural fix that would also be a compromise between the minority and the majority – “so that neither gets the upper hand,” she explains.
That’s always been the biggest stumbling block in past attempts at filibuster reform: The majority might complain about minority abuse of the filibuster today, but their party could be in the minority tomorrow and want that additional protection. The only politically tenable fix that would “do something for both sides … a procedural mechanism so that neither gets the upper hand,” Snowe said.
To be sure, I’m glad Snowe believes the system doesn’t work, and has at least begun preliminary talks about making improvements. That’s more than I can say about most her of colleagues. If there are real talks about reform this year, it’s probably a good idea to have someone like Snowe at the table.
But if she’s looking for a solution to a dysfunctional mess that’s going to satisfy everyone, I suspect she’ll be looking for a very long time, and won’t get anything done before she leaves the chamber at the end of the year.