America in the 21st Century: Is it Efficient Enough?
March 18, 2014
Author: Luis Ferre Sadurni, C’17
In a time where the American public has questioned government efficiency, a remedy appears to be looming in the horizon. In November of last year, the U.S. Senate altered its debate rules so that the debate on executive and judicial branch nominees could be cut off with a simple majority, in lieu of a supermajority of 60 votes1. This change is arguably one of the most significant alterations to the U.S. Senate’s rules in the past decade, and will help turn the Senate back into a functioning legislative body capable of heightening America’s image in the 21st century.
The Republican Party’s response to the well-needed change was one of outrage and total indignation. Invoking the Founding Fathers and the meaning of the Constitution, Republicans said Democrats were symbolically trampling on the minority rights the framers intended to protect2. Is this really true? Did the Founding Fathers really envision a legislative body plagued with deliberate obstruction and lack of relevant debate? The executive and judicial nomination process was designed to ensure the Senate’s ability to “advise and consent”3. Yet the American public has witnessed an abuse of the nomination process and filibuster system. So much so that half of all Senate nomination filibusters have occurred during the Obama administration4. There has also been a record-setting amount of delay in approving the President’s cabinet, and federal agency nominees— even when there appeared to be no objections about the nominee’s qualifications5.
This short-term alteration of power in Washington may also lead to future changes that could ultimately alter the fate of the filibuster and of the U.S. government’s efficiency. One potential development is the “talking filibuster.” Several young senators, led by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), are looking to enact meaningful Senate rule reforms that would end the filibuster abuse and restore debate to the chamber6. Their proposals would force any U.S. Senator who filibusters to actually speak on the floor- under current rules, a U.S. Senator can filibuster legislation or a nominee with a simple phone call- and lay out her relevant objections to the vote at hand7. Although I believe that the total elimination of the filibuster would clear a path to debate, the “talking filibuster” would definitely be a step forward and would greatly increase public accountability.
I believe the abuse of the filibuster in the last couple of years has increasingly changed the character of the American legislative body, and how the U.S. government viewed by the world. The U.S.’s legitimacy rests on its domestic credibility of governing as much as its foreign policy. Thus far, the filibuster process has only contributed to fiscal inefficiency by diverting senators from doing what they are actually elected to do: shape legislation. I believe the new limits (and potential elimination) will ultimately eliminate obstructionism, create efficiency, and formulate a governing body that the American citizenry deserves.
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