Perhaps no feature of legislative procedure has received as much attention in recent years as the Senate filibuster. Majorities are typically unable to pass major or minor measures without currying the votes of an often recalcitrant sixtieth senator. The current Senate has cast record numbers of cloture votes as Democratic majorities have sought to advance the president’s agenda. The supermajority threshold has led some senators to argue that old chamber rules are strangling the power and efficiency of the Senate.
On May 17, the Brookings Institution and the Weidenbaum Center of Washington University in St. Louis hosted a conference to explore the political and institutional dynamics that have given rise to the “60-Vote Senate.” Discussion also focused on prospects for reforming the filibuster in light of mounting criticism of the Senate and calls for reform of the chamber’s rules.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) gave a keynote address on the strengths and weaknesses of the modern Senate. Senator Wyden was followed by two panels of Senate experts. The first panel—composed of former Senate leadership staff—offered insiders’ views on the state of the Senate. A second panel of congressional scholars offered a broad assessment of the Senate and the procedural and organizational challenges confronting the legislative body; discussion also centered on proposals for reform.
After each panel, speakers took audience questions.