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The Senate: Fingering the nuclear button

THE Senate, so George Washington is reputed to have told Thomas Jefferson, is a saucer into which legislation is poured to cool it down. But the Founding Fathers, alas, did not specify just how cold they wanted their tea or their laws to be. At present, an obstreperous minority, using a procedure known as a filibuster, can put a stop to almost any measure unless overridden by 60 of the 100 senators—and that is just the most effective of many time-wasting tactics. The Republican minority’s abuse of the filibuster, claim many in the Democratic majority, has turned the Senate into a deep freeze. They would like to defrost things a little by reducing the minority’s ability to impede legislation. The minority, naturally, objects. For a chamber supposedly devoted to cool contemplation, the debate is getting a little heated.Harry Reid, the majority leader, complains that the Republicans “filibuster on everything”, gumming up the agenda and obstructing even routine business. To jolly things along, he is suggesting three reforms. He wants to ban filibusters on motions to start debate on a bill or a nomination, and on motions to refer a bill to a conference committee, where senators and representatives hash out their differences. (Filibusters preventing a final vote would still be allowed, so the minority’s veto would be preserved.) Most controversially, Mr Reid hopes to oblige…

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