Sabin Russell Science Writer


A Good Idea: Put Up or Shut Up

I have a simple formula for news. It should be new, and interesting, and important. That's why I started this blog, on March 8, 2010, with an obscure quote made in 1888 by an American astronomer no one has ever heard of. Still fresh as ever...

So I would like to draw the attention of my vast readership to something I found new, and interesting, and important. It's a New York Times Op-Ed that appeared yesterday (yes, not new, unless you haven't read it yet). It's one of the best, and shortest analyses I've seen of what ails the U.S. Senate and what can be done about it.

It's a call, believe it or not, to reinstate the filibuster -- the way it used to be. My interpretation of it is: Put Up or Shut Up.

 The piece by Barry Friedman and Andrew Martin explains that, since the 1970's, a filibuster doesn't really shut the Senate down -- it just sends a filibustered bill off on a separate track that needs 60 votes to break, while the Senate can go on doing its business. In the old style filibuster, a filibuster could shut the Senate down, as long as Mr. Smith or some other senator really thinks it is important enough to talk non-stop and shutter the doors of the World's Most Exclusive Club. No time for golf, philandering or influence-peddling. Like a lot of things that make the Senate run, the two-track system is just a rule. It's not burned into the Constitution. So the rule could be changed, and the Senate could breathe again:

"To pull this off, the Democrats need to take three steps: First, they should announce the order in which they will take up their legislative agenda. Next, they should declare that they will no longer be using dual tracking, so that the Senate will hear just one issue at a time. Finally, Democrats should require those who want to filibuster legislation or appointments to actually do so, by holding the floor, talking the issue to death and bringing everything to a halt."

Here's a link to the whole thing:

This new rule should be dedicated to Senator Jim Bunning, whose recent antics may have finally awakened lawmakers out of their stupor. It may be the best and only good thing he's done since he retired from baseball.

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Posted by Sabin Russell

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