Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Better Late Than Never

Filibuster reform is "the single most important thing we can do on a single day to change Washington. It would make a huge difference in the rest of Barack Obama's first term, and might make a difference whether he has a second term."  -- Rachel Maddow

Remarkably, all 53 returning Democratic Senators signed a letter urging Majority Leader Harry Reid to change the filibuster rules.  As reported in the National Journal, the letter "expresses general frustration with what Democrats consider unprecedented obstruction [by Republicans] and asks Reid to take steps to end those abuses."

The filibuster won't be eliminated completely and it is not yet clear what specific reforms will be implemented.  However, with rare party unity, it looks like Democrats may make substantive changes that will streamline the process and force Republicans to actually filibuster.  The blueprint for the changes appears to be coming from a proposal by Sen. Jeff Merkley, which as Ezra Klein reports, filibusters "would require continuous debate on the floor of the Senate, and they would only be allowed once the bill is on the floor."  This would be a significant change from what happens now when one party (i.e., Republicans) merely has to threaten to filibuster to stop a bill as long as it musters enough votes to overcome cloture (41 votes to end filibuster debate) without ever having an actual debate.  Klein says that the Democrats also want to reduce the dead time between calling for a vote to break a filibuster and actually taking the vote.

Given the sanctity of Senate rules, the fact that all returning Democrats favor reform shows how truly outrageous the Republicans have been in abusing the current rules to hold the government hostage to their right wing agenda.  CNN confirmed the truth of President Obama's assertion that "You had to cast more votes to break filibusters last year than in the entire 1950s and '60s combined."  Even the Democrats have had enough.  It's about time.

[Related posts:  Vermont's Finest ]


lonbud said...

Hear hear; huzzahs all around!

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman said...

yes, absolutely!! Mother Jones had this to say on Tuesday about Udall, Merkeley & Harkin's new year effort: : http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/01/filibuster-reform-jeff-merkley

I personally like this bit:
"A vote on the rules change is supposed to be held on the first day of a new Congress, but because the Senate is a bizarre and mysterious institution, they are allowed to extend the first day for days or even weeks. Now the vote on the rules is expected on January 25."

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