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Latino Daily News

Thursday January 13, 2011

Fix The Senate: A Call for Filibuster Reform Hits the Floor

Fix The Senate: A Call for Filibuster Reform Hits the Floor

Photo: Reform Senate Filibuster

Click Here to Enlarge Photo

For the past two years, the Senate Republicans have shamelessly abused Senate rules—including the filibuster—for patently political reasons.

Sadly, most Senate Democrats met the Senate Republicans’ unprecedented obstructionism with complacency rather than conviction.

That may be about to change.

A reform package was introduced by three Democratic senators who have championed the issue of Senate rules reform: Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Harkin of Iowa.

While the package doesn’t eliminate the filibuster and otherwise falls short of the full reform we would like to see, it represents a step forward. And we need to make sure that the Senate leadership doesn’t further water it down needlessly to appease the Republicans.

Tell Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer to stand strong on filibuster reform in the Senate.

The filibuster is why health care reform didn’t contain a public health care option similar to Medicare; it’s why no meaningful climate legislation was passed; why even non-controversial judges were denied confirmation despite a crisis in the judiciary; and why even the bipartisan DREAM Act wasn’t even brought to the floor.

With a new Congress comes a chance to change the rules via a simple majority vote. Sens. Udall, Merkley and Harkin have proposed a number of provisions to limit the ability of the Republicans to game the rules and bring the Senate to a grinding halt. Their proposal includes:

1. Making those who filibuster actually stay on the floor and talk, like Jimmy Stewart in the famous scene of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
2. Reducing the opportunities to filibuster
3. Expediting the nominations process for relatively uncontroversial nominees
4. Eliminating secret holds


They have also included a provision that guarantees the Republican minority the right to offer amendments, which avoids a situation the Republicans commonly used as an excuse for their filibusters.

But the Republicans, hoping nobody will recognize the rank hypocrisy of their actions, are feigning outrage that the Democratic majority would have the temerity to challenge what is effectively the Republican minority’s ability to veto legislation and nominations.

And critically, they are claiming that the Democrats’ attempt to change the rules via a majority vote represents some type of power grab. Never mind the fact that the Republicans used the filibuster so routinely while in the minority that the Senate saw more filibusters in the last four years than the decades between 1920-1980 put together. And pay no attention to the Constitution’s clear language about the Senate being able to make its own rules.

It’s not just progressives who view the status quo as untenable. Recently, every single senator now in the Democratic caucus signed a letter to Majority Leader Reid attesting to the need to change the rules to end the Republicans’ obstructionism.

That means that a majority of the Senate already supports some sort of rules reform and that the Democrats do not need to preemptively cave to Republicans in order to get something passed.

Republicans should be invited to vote with Democrats, but not given the opportunity to weaken or defeat the reform package. Rarely do we get to make positive change with a straight majority vote in the Senate. The Democrats should seize this opportunity and act from a position of strength.

Yet the fake consternation from Republicans may cause the Democratic leadership to blink and push for an even more anemic set of reforms than the modest ones put forth by Sens. Udall, Merkley and Harkin. And some of the ever-fearful “moderate” Democrats in the Senate might also waver in the face of this blustering from the Republicans if they do not see strong public support for reform.

We need to send a loud message to Senate Majority Leader Reid and Sen. Schumer, who is leading negotiations with Republicans on this issue, that they can’t water down Senate reform just to get some Republican votes.
Tell Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer to stand strong on filibuster reform in the Senate.

Sign the Petition Here