The U.S. Senate has not conducted any official business this week, so the American people have been at least temporarily protected from its stultifying refusal to represent them well. But the senators will eventually return — and will resume blocking judicial nominees, converting budget disagreements into crises and preventing the enactment of even the most paltry gun restrictions favored by the overwhelming majority of Americans and the clear majority of the Senate itself.
This is not the first time in its history that the Senate, by virtue of its rules, has become an impediment to the popular will. Indeed, the founders intended it to move more deliberately than the House, and not all obstruction is negative. But the combination of a deepening partisan divide, Republican exploitation of the rules and weak Democratic leadership has converted the Senate from the world's greatest deliberative body into a persistent obstacle to sound government.
It need not be this way. The Senate makes its own rules, and it can change them. Principally at issue these days, of course, is the filibuster. To exercise a filibuster once required a senator or senators to physically hold the floor and monopolize debate, preventing a vote until the other side either relented and moved on to other business or found the 60 votes necessary to end the filibuster.