The use of the filibuster to create gridlock in the Senate has increased drastically over the past two decades, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service. The report, prepared for the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, details the changes to and uses of the modern filibuster from its inception in 1917 through 2008. The first such report since 1985, it clearly demonstrates that the Senate did not always have a tradition of unlimited debate.
The report is also an important reminder that the Senate has the authority to change its own rules. Since the creation of the cloture rule (the parliamentary process for ending a filibuster) in 1917, which itself was intended to combat legislative obstruction, the Senate has changed the rule six times in order to reign in abuse of the filibuster that has limited the Senate’s effectiveness.
The Brennan Center has observed the trend of increasing abuse of the filibuster and has called for filibuster reform that would “place a burden upon filibustering senators” to delay action on legislation supported by the majority of Senators. The Senate has adjusted the rules governing the filibuster many times in the past to ensure it is a tool to give the minority a chance to influence legislation, but not a recipe for legislative paralysis. It is time for the Senate to reform the filibuster again.