The House and Senate rulebooks in 1789 were nearly identical. Both rulebooks included what is known as the “previous question” motion. The House kept their motion, and today it empowers a simple majority to cut off debate. The Senate no longer has that rule on its books.
What happened to the Senate’s rule? In 1805, Vice President Aaron Burr was presiding over the Senate (freshly indicted for the murder of Alexander Hamilton), and he offered this advice. He said something like this. You are a great deliberative body. But a truly great Senate would have a cleaner rule book. Yours is a mess. You have lots of rules that do the same thing. And he singles out the previous question motion. Now, today, we know that a simple majority in the House can use the rule to cut off debate. But in 1805, neither chamber used the rule that way. Majorities were still experimenting with it. And so when Aaron Burr said, get rid of the previous question motion, the Senate didn’t think twice. When they met in 1806, they dropped the motion from the Senate rule book.
Fast forward to modern times:
In 1975, though, the Senate made a change that made it significantly easier to filibuster by adopting rules that allow other business to be conducted while a filibuster is, technically underway. Since 1975, senators have not needed to stand up on the floor and make their case to their colleagues and their constituents in order to halt legislation. Instead, these “virtual filibusters” can be conducted in absentia.
Virtual Filibusters allow small numbers of senators to effortlessly place personal political agendas above the work of government with no consequence. As a result, even routine Senate functions like approving executive appointees get mired in partisan politics.
During the Obama years the virtual filibuster became the norm. Harry Reid circumvented the rule allowing a majority to pass legislation, nominate judges. Payback is hell as the Democrats now complain when the republicans use the same procedure to do the same things.
The divisive nature of congress and the presidency, past and present has brought us to this point.
Compromise is a thing of the past.