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Reid and Democrats settled for anemic filibuster reform

Published: Wed, January 30, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

The defenders of the effortless filibuster that has evolved in the Senate act as if preserving it has some constitutional or democratic merit. It doesn’t.

The concept of a filibuster appears nowhere in the Constitution, which requires a supermajority vote in only a few specific instances. The clear inference is that in most matters, the Founders envisioned legislation being passed in both houses by a simple majority.

That would be in keeping with the principle that the majority rules — rather than what has evolved with the increasingly casual use of the filibuster. Now a strident minority rules.

Unfortunately, Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, folded again in negotiating the most watered down reform of the filibuster that could be imagined.

It’s not all Reid’s fault. When he began talking about changing the Senate rules to make a filibuster more inconvenient for the minority even some Democrats expressed misgivings. But it’s the job of a leader to lead. Reid had the ability to shepherd through changes in the filibuster rule on a simple majority vote, but he failed.

It should be noted that no one was suggesting doing away with the filibuster. The most anyone was asking for was that the procedure return to its roots, which required someone who held a principled objection to legislation to stand on the Senate floor and express that opposition. It would have been a return to the talking filibuster over the phony filibuster in effect in recent years. Now all a senator has to do is announce his intention to filibuster, and if the other side can’t muster 60 votes for cloture, no vote on the legislation or the nomination before the Senate is ever taken.

Make them talk

We liked a proposal by Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, who suggested two years ago that once a filibuster started, five filibustering senators would have to be present during the first 24 hours, 10 during the next 24 hours and 20 after that. They would have to pursue meaningful debate, the kind of debate that informs the public about what is at stake if the legislation they so ardently opposed were to pass.

Instead, Reid of Nevada and the minority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, came up with a weak package of reforms that the Senate adopted by lopsided votes. One will allow bills to be more quickly brought up for debate. Another will limit discussion on certain White House nominations.

Reid and many other Democrats are obviously worried that some day they could be in the minority. They’re worried about protecting their possible future selves. That, of course assumes that if the tables were to turn in 2014 or 2016, the new Republican majority would be equally solicitous of the Democratic minority. Given the increasingly acrimonious partisan politics in Washington — which shows little sign of abating — we’re guessing that Reid and company are being naive.


1bumbob(146 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

The filibuster needs downsized significantly or totally done away with. And the remark right above mine totally misses the point.

There has been a surge in the number of filibusters performed over the past four years since President Obama has taken office, and the instransigence of the Republican party has throttled our ability to get anything done. I can't say this loud enough: the Republican party has blocked progress in the name of making the President look bad. It is just that simple. It honestly, seriously is.

A simple majority vote is the way to go and that Sen. Reid was too cowardly to actually do something significant is really terrible. If anything useful is going to pass through Senate this year the filibuster needs reformed in a substantial capacity. Reid has to stop wringing his hands over 2014 and be a leader.

It's time to have legislative rules that make people live with cause and effect instead of this permanent limbo where nothing ever gets done.

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2redeye1(5657 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

bumbob Just what has the GOP blocked . The demoncrats haven't brought a budget to the floor in 4 yrs. If you mean the GOP blocked progress by blocking all the free hand-outs that the demoncrats wanted to give out. GOOD! There hasn't been any progress due to OBAMMY and his half arse plans such as the stimulis plan that went nowhere . All the plan was a fart to the economy and nothing else . Oh, it helped the union backers of OBAMMY . Just take a look at I 680 its worse now then before we wasted our tax dollars on it If the GOP hadn't stood up to OBAMMY this country would be so far in debt we would never see daylight again. It would be another GREECE!

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3papa1(711 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

i thought harry reid had some balls. how dissapointing. what the hell was he thinking? the turtle (mconnel) is laughing his ass off. it's better to have to have over 60%, rather than 50% of the vote to pass a bill? WTF!!

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