Expert proposes end to ‘parliamentary warfare’ over filibusters

Smith testifies at Senate hearing Sept. 22

Steven S. Smith, PhD, the Kate M. Gregg Professor of Social Sciences and professor of political science in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, testified at a Senate hearing Sept. 22 on legislative proposals to change filibuster procedures.

Steven S. Smith’s Sept. 22 testimony was broadcast on the Senate committee’s website.

Smith discussed specific proposals for reform.

He favors rules changes that:

  • more clearly protect each senator’s opportunity to debate and offer amendments;
  • limit debate on motions to proceed and combine and limit debate on the three motions to go to conference;
  • limit debate on appropriations bills and executive calendar business; and
  • where debate is not otherwise limited, allow a simple majority to eventually close debate.

In May, Smith warned the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration that an unhealthy syndrome of exploiting the rules — by both the minority and majority — was blocking important legislation and limiting debate.

On Sept. 22, Smith argued, before the same committee, that the increase in the obstructive use of rules is a long-term condition that “undercuts the role of the senator and harms the Senate as a policy-making institution.”

Smith told the committee that “wishing for better behavior” on the part of senators and their leaders won’t reverse the consequences of “two decades of intensifying parliamentary warfare” that has contributed to the demise of the appropriations process, more packaging in omnibus bills, and a shift of policy decision-making from committees to party leadership offices, among other changes.

Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) presented proposals at the Russell Senate Office Building hearing. The proceedings were carried via live webcast on the committee’s website.

Smith, who also is the director of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University, is available for interview.