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Filibuster Reform: Let the Fight Begin

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Senator Mitch McConnell in a Washington Post op-ed dated tomorrow (but on the Post’s website today) argues vehemently that the growing move to alter the Senate filibuster rules is a mistake. He points to a similar attempt in 1995, at the start of Congress—two years into Bill Clinton’s first term. “Just two months after securing a congressional majority for the first time in 40 years, Republicans strode into the Senate chamber on Jan. 5, 1995, to cast the first vote of the 104th Congress – a vote to limit their own power,” said McConnell. He states that supporting the bill would have been in the short-term interest of the majority Republicans, but they did not support it.

I would argue that you cannot compare the two scenarios: it’s like comparing apples with rotten apples. Over the last two years, the Republicans have so abused the right of filibuster; the Democrats have nearly no choice in the matter. Because the Republicans’ stated goal is to destroy the Obama presidency (rather than actually sitting down to the hard task of forging policy—it’s much easier to say “no”), the Republicans have had the Senate at a virtual standstill for two years on so many pieces of legislation it boggles the mind.

As I recall (and I was never very good at math), 51 votes equals a majority of 100. Yet, nearly every bill to come before the Senate, every procedural vote that precedes every Senate bill has been filibustered with the purpose to stall, confound and otherwise stymie the process of majority rule. I’m not talking about radical ideas here. I’m talking about bills to do with common decency, like extending unemployment benefits, like providing health care for first responders dying and becoming ill from their heroic efforts on 9/11.

The filibuster rule needs reform and it needs it now. To change the filibuster rules, the Senate has to vote on a rule change, for this is not a law, it’s a Senate rule. This rule can only be changed on the first day of a new Congress, and requires a majority vote; it cannot be filibustered, so it’s up to the Democrats. Tomorrow is the first day of the new Congress.  

Do away with filibuster? Never. Change it so that we have some semblance of majority rule? You bet’cha! There are many ways to reform the filibuster rule without doing away with it. Require people to actually stand and talk, physicaly holding up the vote (ala Jimmy Stewart in one of my favorite movies, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington); limit the circumstances under which a filibuster may be initiated; limit the number (sort of like football limits the number of timeouts).

May the Democrats rue the day they did it at some future date when they are in the minority? It’s entirely possible. But things cannot go on as they have. Let the votes fall where they may.

 

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    “May the Democrats rue the day they did it at some future date when they are in the minority?”

    Indeed.

    Senator McConnell seems to have forgotten that his party tried to do the exact same thing a couple of Congresses ago.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Difference is, the Dems have shown no tendency for voting in virtual lockstep against anything the Republicans try to make happen. Sure, Dems throw in a few filibusters, but never to the extent that the Republicans did in the early Clinton administration, much less the past two years of “just say no” to anything supported by the Obama administration regardless of how crucial the legislation may have been.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    And that is a huge difference Glenn. I’m glad this is big news, and I think most people, if polled (have they been?) would agree that reform is necessary to do “the people’s business.”

  • Doug Hunter

    The filibuster is a tool to prevent 51% of the population from fucking over the other 49% as well as effectively limiting the power of government (or at least forcing sensible compromise). Doesn’t sound too bad to me, anything that tightens the lid on the genie.!

    Perhaps if I was an big government lovin’ authoritarian chomping at the bit to use federal powers to spend other people’s money and tell other people what and how to live I’d feel differently…

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Hey Doug, I agree with you on the merits of the filibuster. BUT when that power is abused to the point of holding up ALL legislation, ALL appointments just to prevent the other party from gaining a victory of any kind, it’s time to alter the process. There have been more filibusters in the last two years than in any other similar time period. Full stop.

  • Doug Hunter

    I thought there had been several meaningful bills passed, I haven’t really kept up with judge appointments and the like. I have noticed a trend where courts seem to be shaping more policy as well as seeing several large class actions being certified/settled recently so I see where the drive to politicize the process comes from. If you stack one district court and the appeals and get +1 on the supreme court you could do alot of damage in that arena with only a handful of people especially as it relates to giving away the farm to special interest groups.

    Class actions already shop their venue, we got the recent multibillion$$$ black farmer settlement (paying anyone with black skin and a turned couple decades $50,000 regardless of individual merit) which rather than “settle” anything has only funded trial lawyers and encouraged every other special interest group to file a suit we’ve also got the upcoming Walmart/women, etc. Justice is not blind and politicians know that.

  • Ruvy

    I’m waiting for you Americans to wake up to the reality that this bond sale of 500 million yüan and the unveiling of this stealth fighter jet is far more important than filibusters, or Buster Browns, or whether House screwed Cuddy, or what the “Walternative” is doing.

    It’s a big wide world out there – and more and more, you Americans are irrelevant to it!

  • Boeke

    Getting rid of the filibuster is almost as good as getting rid of the entire senate, which is an archaic undemocratic collection of over privileged old oafs bowing and scraping to each other while spitting on the needs of the American citizens.

  • Doug Hunter

    Well, our blogging sites are still relevant evidently.

    That’s a nice looking fighter BTW, I wonder where we’ll fight our proxy war so we can test it out against the F-22… Tiawan? North Korea?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Hmm…

    If the F-22 is a stealth fighter that can evade radar detection, and the J-20 is also a stealth fighter that can evade radar detection, I would encourage the development of both.

    Especially if these planes’ respective properties mean that a dogfight between the two would consist of them flying endlessly around the sky, failing to find each other.

    Now if the American and Chinese militaries can amuse themselves by spending their time sodding around doing that sort of thing, and leave the rest of us alone to get on with it, I’m all for it.

  • Clavos

    ALL legislation, Barbara? Did not the Patient “Protection” and “Affordable” Care Act pass — despite near total opposition by the Republicans?

    No, it wasn’t opposition by the GOP which stopped much of the proposed legislation, it was agreement with the Republican stance by a significant enough minority of Democrats that did it.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    Barbara erroneously assumes that all legislation issuing from the Democrats is to the good. That’s the height of presumptiveness, especially since both political parties pay equal homage to the same gods.

    But then again, what else can one expect from the rabidly religious liberal mindset? And so, the preoccupation with trivia continues and captures the imagination of the indolent while Rome is burning.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Clavos–I never said “all”.
    Roger–I also never said that all legislation from the Dems is a good thing. I disagreed with quite a bit of the Democrats agenda last session. I thought Obama was far too solicitous and much too eager to reveal his hand.

    This isn’t trivia (and if not dealt with right away, the window of opportunity to bring it up at all vanishes). Reading the entire text of the Constitution on Day 1? That’s trivial. I would think that every one of the Reps would have the thing memorized. THAT should be a requirement.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    Barbara, I hope you do understand that my comment wasn’t directed at you personally.

  • FSUNole

    You might think the reps would have the Constitution memorized. But, alas, that is not the case as demonstrated by the previous house majority. Maybe, this will jolt a few back to reality. Yes, it should be a requirement to know the Constitution.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Roger–no worries.

  • Clavos

    Barbara,

    From your #5 in this thread:

    BUT when that power is abused to the point of holding up ALL legislation…

    Since the 112th has yet to vote on anything, one can only infer you were referring to the 111th…

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