[L]et me argue for two concrete institutional reforms. First, the Senate should abolish the filibuster and the single-member “hold” on nominations and legislative motions. It should become, like the House, a majority-rule assembly.
As many of you know, what is today called the filibuster is not the one valorized in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In olden days, filibustering meant abusing the Senate custom of unlimited floor debate. It was physically taxing and recognized as a desperation move, resorted to only in cases of extreme minority or home-state opposition. In some notable cases, the filibusterers, having demonstrated the depths of their opposition, then freely acceded to the majority vote they knew they were going to lose.
That practice has evolved into a set of rules that permit even a single member — with no speechifying, and often no more effort than sending an email — to move most matters of Senate business from a majority vote of 51 to a supermajority vote of 60. …
… My second institutional reform is a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. The idea is widely derided. For one thing, it is said to be unworkable, because revenues are contingent and deficits are sometimes desirable or necessary, as in economic downturns and in times of war. But those problems have been solved by Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane. Their amendment holds each year’s total spending to the median annual revenue of the previous seven years, and permits temporary deficits by supermajority votes.