Herald-Leader Editorial

Senate filibuster hurts governing

Gun votes are examples of gridlock

April 23, 2013 

In just about any setting other than the U.S. Senate, 54 to 46 is a solid win.

Yet, that's the vote by which expanding background checks for gun buyers went down to defeat last week.

Actually the background check amendment had 55 votes; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed his vote to "no" to preserve his ability to bring up the measure again.

So, while 55-45 would be an election landslide, it wasn't enough to enact a minor gun reform that several polls have shown 90 percent of Americans support.

It can't be good that the Senate has rendered itself institutionally incapable of reflecting the will of the American people.

Yet that is exactly what has happened, thanks in no small part to the obstructionist strategy of Kentucky's own Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Both McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul joined the majority of Senate Republicans in voting against the background-check provision and others that would have strengthened gun laws.

The 60-vote, supermajority requirement is nowhere to be found in the Constitution; it's purely a creation of the Senate.

But given the chance early this year to end the abuse of the filibuster, which triggers a supermajority requirement, Senate Democrats wimped out, settling for minor reforms. Democrats easily imagined themselves in the minority again and wanted to retain their power to invoke the supermajority requirement through filibuster.

This might be smart politics in the narrow sense, but it's bad governing, bad for the country and ultimately bad for the Senate.

The Senate was designed to be more deliberative than the House, a brake on the tyranny of the moment and the majority.

That is why the Constitution gives each state, regardless of population, two votes in the Senate — and why, for example, the two votes against background checks cast by senators from Wyoming (population 576,000) count as much as the two votes cast for background checks by senators from California (population 38 million).

To layer the filibuster and supermajority rule on top of the constitutional provision for disproportionate representation makes the Senate distinctly undemocratic.

McConnell has long celebrated his historic connection to one of Kentucky's early U.S. senators, Henry Clay. If Clay could see what McConnell has helped do to the Senate, he would weep.

Meanwhile, the majority of Americans who want sensible controls on guns, especially weapons designed for warfare, have no choice but to organize themselves as effectively as the National Rifle Association.

They have an advantage over the NRA — popular support.

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