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It's time for Mitch McConnell to kill the filibuster

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) looks on during a news conference on Capitol Hill, November 21, 2013, the day after the Senate voted 52-48 to abolish the filibuster for nominations (excepting Supreme Court nominations).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) looks on during a news conference on Capitol Hill, November 21, 2013, the day after the Senate voted 52-48 to abolish the filibuster for nominations (excepting Supreme Court nominations).
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Yesterday, Senate Democrats conducted their fourth successful filibuster of the Republican majority's proposal — already passed by the House — to fund the Department of Homeland Security while also blocking President Obama's immigration policies.

Democrats' newfound obstructionist tendencies have provoked a bit of interest among the conservative commentariat in abolishing the filibuster outright. Charles Krauthammer is on board, as is Red State's Andrew Hyman. Republicans would certainly be on solid footing, given that Democrats last session abolished the filibuster for all executive nominations, and all judicial nominations save the Supreme Court. Turnabout's fair play.

But filibuster abolition more than just a fair strategic move for Republicans to make: it's a necessity. The filibuster is a horrible relic, an accidental creation that historically served mainly to bolster the forces of white supremacy before metastasizing into a supermajority requirement affecting almost all Senate business. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can, and should, get rid of it entirely.

There's something to be said for the filibuster when it provides a means for Senators from large states representing a majority of the population to block bills championed by tiny states. And a filibuster actually designed to protect the interests of the majority of the population would be worthwhile.

But the actually existing filibuster, which makes no distinction between majoritarian and minoritarian obstruction, is a travesty. It has slowed the business of the Senate to a crawl. It makes parties gain the presidency, the House, and 60 Senate seats to govern, which aside from a few months in 2009 has not happened in decades. Until the abolition of the filibuster for nominations last year, it kept the federal judiciary and executive agencies perennially understaffed. It's one of the excess of veto points in American government that threatens the continued survival of our political system.

"There is not a doubt in my mind," then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared last year, "that if the majority breaks the rules of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate with regard to nominations, the next majority will do it for everything."

Well, the most recent majority did just that. McConnell should live up to his threat and abolish the filibuster entirely. That won't affect legislation much for the next two years — bills will simply die on Obama's desk rather than on the Senate floor — but it will clarify that what's stopping the legislation is the president. It will signal that these bills will become law if Republicans take the White House in 2016 and keep their Congressional majorities, because they should become law in that case. It will make the stakes of the next election exceedingly clear. And it will remove one of the biggest causes of Congressional dysfunction, probably for good.

You don't have to support McConnell's policy agenda to hope he'll go nuclear. You just have to care about the continued functioning of the American system of government.