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The U.S. Senate, the filibuster, and cabinet nominees

By Scott Tibbs, July 25, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid angered Republicans when he threatened to limit the filibuster in the Senate, but he actually raised a good point and the filibuster deserves to be discussed.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul engaged in a "talking" filibuster earlier this year, but those are actually very rare in the Senate. In fact, the filibuster is not what many people think it to be. Many of us think of someone standing up and speaking for several hours at a time to block a piece of legislation or a nomination he strongly opposes. Generally, the way the rules work is that any senator can say he is conducting a "filibuster" but not stand up and actually speak.

So here is the first reform I would make: Filibusters must be real filibusters. The work of the Senate grinds to a halt while Senators stand up and speak for as long as they can about the item up for a vote. If no one stands up to actually filibuster by talking, then the "filibuster" is declared null and void.

As to the President's nominees, generally the opposition party should defer to the President's judgment on who he wants in his Cabinet. Unless a nominee is obviously incompetent or corrupt, the President should be allowed to pick his team. The Senate should generally approve nominees who only serve as long as the President is in office and will be gone when the President's term is over - though appointments that go into the next term are another matter.

The President certainly should expect a simple majority vote on the vast majority of his nominees.

I do not think abolishing the filibuster on the President's nominees for executive branch positions is the right answer, because there may be a case where someone truly does need to be stopped - such as when someone is obviously incompetent or corrupt, as I pointed out earlier. But, again, those filibusters should be real filibusters.