Filibuster

One of the most cynical things going on in WA DC these days is the abuse of the filibuster. Back in Dubby’s day, there was discussion about changing the rules of filibuster and that was because the Dems … in an effort to stop the steamroller … began to use it, usually under dire threat. A robust conversation ensued about retiring this technique [especially among Pubs who wished to stop any attempt to push back those steamrollers by the minority] and I remember coming down on the side of keeping it as is, because of its original value as well as Congressional tradition.

Considering what the Pubs have done with them, though, putting holds on legislation and stopping progress dead in the water — without lifting a finger to participate in an actual filibuster, but only to threaten or bluff or file, yadda — I fully support the movement to change the rules regarding filibuster. It’s either that, or face another two years like the last two, and there’s hardly a soul out there in the nation with patience for that.

No surprise that a recent poll had used car salesmen and congresspersons equally respected — ’nuff said.

If you want to know what a REAL filibuster looks like, check in on Bernie Sanders — bless him — to see how that looks, here.

Here are three articles, each dealing with filibuster. The first, about the arrogance of a handful of GOP Senators will make you want to spit. The next, by academic Gary Hart, gives us the complexity of filibuster … but change to the current rule can be done on the FIRST day of the new session, when the vote only needs half plus one.

The third read shows that the GOP knows exactly what it’s doing, swinging this cudgel … even if ruffling some of its members feathers. On that front, stars in John McCain’s crown, at least today — every once in awhile he remembers he was once a maverick.

Three quick reads. If you get a chance, urge your legislator to support a “fix.”

Jude

GOP Senators Assert Veto Power Over Legislation In Waning Days
Michael McAuliff, HuffPo
12/03/2012

WASHINGTON — In a move likely to spur more calls for filibuster reform, a group of conservative Republican senators is demanding that other members of the upper chamber clear all legislation through them in the final two weeks of the year.

The Senate often tries to expedite legislation when time is running short by passing bills with unanimous consent. But in a letter circulated to all senators last week, the GOP’s Senate Steering Committee, headed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), declared that more than a dozen of its members will not grant such consent for anything that is not sent to them first, by 5 p.m. on Dec. 18.

“The Senate Steering Committee would like to ensure that there is sufficient time to review all legislation proposed to be passed by unanimous consent in the closing days of the current Congress,” the committee said in an email that accompanied the letter.

“The members who have signed the attached letter will regrettably be unable to grant their consent for any bills hotlined [sent] after December 18,” the email said.

If a single senator does not agree to a request for unanimous consent, it lays the ground for a filibuster, under which it takes 60 senators to move ahead.

There have been at least 110 filibusters in this session of Congress alone. Democrats recently proposed changing Senate rules so that motions to proceed to consider legislation cannot be filibustered, although the legislation itself could still be blocked. They also want to require the “talking filibuster,” in which senators who object to a bill must actually hold forth on the Senate floor to block it.

Since Senate rule changes generally require a two-thirds vote, Democrats have been weighing what opponents call the “nuclear option” — using procedural steps to change the rules with a simple 51-vote majority when the Senate comes back into session in January.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has argued that use of the nuclear option means Democrats are trying to break the rules to change the rules and that the GOP has only blocked so much legislation because Democrats severely restrict GOP amendments. Republicans warn that if Democrats change the rules as threatened, the traditional more-deliberative nature of the Senate will be destroyed.

“If we change the filibuster rules, that is the end of the United States Senate,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a floor speech Monday.

So far, it isn’t clear that Democrats have the votes for the nuclear option, which has been threatened before but not implemented because the two sides worked out their differences. ++

The Club
Gary Hart, HuffPo
12/02/2012

If the “unlimited debate” (filibuster) rule continues to be abused in the Senate, little will be accomplished in the second Obama term. Regardless, proposed reform of this rule is not as simple as it looks from the outside. This has to do with the unique nature of the Senate.

Unlike the House of Representatives, Senators represent States, not just district constituencies. The founders of the American republic wanted a parliament of the people, but they also wanted a forum for the states that formed the federated republic. By its nature, the Senate is more than a smaller House. It is a different deliberative body.

Being smaller, however, means that comity, personal relationships and an atmosphere of respect (stuffiness, its critics sniff), is magnified in importance. The least effective senators are those who put themselves, their careers, their egos, their ideologies, even the interest of their political party, ahead of respect for their colleagues, the institution, and the long-term national interest.

Special interest caucuses have much more influence in the House than in the Senate. The Senate is too small to permit itself to fracture into fragments, or the factions the founders dreaded. The most effective senators are those who demonstrate, over time, statesmanship, a long-range view and a sense of history, and the ultimate best interest of the nation. Unfortunately, there are too few of these historic senators in recent years, but there are a few and they exert a much greater influence than the careerists and partisan ideologues.

Senators, and to a degree House members as well, have a duty to educate their constituencies, including those with whom they may disagree, on the complex economic, diplomatic, and security issues the nation faces. This is particularly true of those constituencies that may have helped the senator to be elected. There is much too little exercise of this educational role from those in elective office. Everyday Americans will respond positively if a senator takes the time to break complex questions into understandable pieces and defeat efforts of hard-line ideologues with big media megaphones to misinform the public.

It is clear that the founders intended our political institutions to be governed by majority rule, as the constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar has exhaustively established. But the unique nature of the Senate, composed of representatives of states, requires respect for a different principle, at least up to a reasonable point. That principle is unlimited debate on the rare issues where popular opinion as reflected by the majority might be, as least for the moment, wrong. And in the case of specifically described measures, such as treaties, the Constitution requires two-thirds ratification by the Senate.

The dilemma caused by tension between clear majority rule and the rights of the minority can be resolved, as is currently being proposed, by limiting the measures on which unlimited debate can be exercised and by requiring actual debate and not simply the threat of a filibuster. As those who have had the honor of serving in the Senate know, however, the rules by which the Senate governs itself (originally designed by Thomas Jefferson) cannot and should not be altered casually or expediently.

The crisis of our government, our Congress, now has been brought on by a minority that contemptuously abuses those rules. That minority cannot have it both ways. It cannot demand respect for the rules of the Senate when it has abused those rules systematically, cynically and destructively. Those who love our country more than they love their political party will find a way to preserve and protect the unique nature of the Senate, the forum of the states, even while moving our nation forward. ++

John McCain Shows Sympathy For Filibuster Reform
Jason Cherkis, HuffPo
12/03/2012

WASHINGTON — On Monday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed sympathy with supporters of filibuster reform — albeit in a low-key tone.

During a Senate floor discussion of the defense authorization bill, McCain took a swipe at Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his filibuster threats and stall tactics.

“I’ve just been informed that the senator from Kentucky has objected, voiced an objection to taking up any further unanimous consent agreements or votes,” McCain lamented. “That means that there will be many, many amendments which have been approved by both sides which will now not be allowed to be offered or acted upon.”

Paul’s maneuver is known in the Senate as a hold. It’s enough to make McCain sympathize with Senate rules reform.

“All I can say to my friend, the chairman, is that again I find it disappointing that one member of the United States Senate feels that his particular agenda is so important that it affects the lives and the readiness and the capabilities of the men and women who are serving in the military and our ability to defend this nation,” McCain said. “And much to my dismay, it lends some credence to the — to the argument that maybe we ought not to do business the way that we are doing here in the United States Senate.”

The argument he’s referring to is being made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has pledged to take up filibuster reform.

But Paul’s move could also be seen in the opposite light. He has regularly used stalling tactics to stand up for civil liberties, including opposition to indefinite detention.

A Paul spokeswoman said the senator has since lifted his hold, and is negotiating with the bill’s leaders on a path forward. ++

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”~ The Reverand Martin Luther King

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