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Thomas H.
Former Democrat IA
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    The Filibuster

    by Former Senator Tom Harkin

    Posted on 2013-01-24

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    HARKIN. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to give some remarks that I give about every 2 years, I guess, when the Senate reconvenes for a new Congress. Now this is a new Congress, so once again I come here to point out that we need to make some changes in the way we operate.



    I have been in this body for 28 years. I am currently eighth in seniority. As soon as Senator Kerry becomes Secretary of State, I will be seventh in seniority. I am proud to represent the great State of Iowa; I am proud to be a Senator, to serve in this illustrious body. I have been in the majority and minority I think up to five times in the Senate. Before that, I served 10 years in the House. I love the Senate. It is a wonderful institution--it is, as envisioned by our Founders.

    The Senate at times has been frustratingly slow to encompass the changes necessary to the smooth functioning of our country. I mention in particular the long, long struggle for civil rights and how that was held up by a small minority--which happened to be in my party, by the way, at that time.

    Nonetheless, the Senate through the years has really been the Chamber that takes a long and hard look at legislation, where we have the right to amend, where we have the right to discuss and to embark upon discourse on legislation in a manner that allows even the smallest State to be represented as much as a large State. That is not true in the body that both the occupant of the chair and I used to serve in, the House. There, as you know, large States tend to dominate because we have most of the Members. But here, a Senator from Connecticut is just as important as a Senator from California or a Senator from Iowa or-- let's see, what is the least populous State? I think Wyoming or Alaska--is equal to a Senator from New York or Florida or Texas or California. This has been a great equalizing body.

    Having served here for this time, I think I have some perspective on this Senate. As I said, at its best, this Senate is where our great American experience in democratic self-government most fully manifests itself. It is in this body that the American people, through their elected officials, can come together collectively to debate, deliberate, and address the great issues of our time. Through our Nation's history, it has done so. In the nearly quarter of a century I have been here--well, wait, it is 28 years that I have been here, so it is over a quarter of a century--the rights of Americans have been expanded: Americans with disabilities; we have ensured health insurance for millions of Americans.

    In the early 1990s we voted here on the course to eliminate the national deficit in a generation, and we are on our way to doing that.

    It is because of my great reverence for this institution and my love for our country that I come to the floor today. One does not need to read the abysmal approval ratings of Congress to know that Americans are fed up and angry with this broken government. In too many critical areas, people see a Congress that is riven with dysfunction. Citizens see their legislature going from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis. They see a legislature that is simply unable to respond effectively to the most urgent challenges of our time.

    Of course, there are a myriad of reasons for this gridlock--increased partisanship; a decline in civility and comity; too much power, I believe, in the hands of special interest groups; a polarizing instant- news media; and, I might add, the increasing time demands on all of us here involved in raising large amounts of money to run for reelection. But make no mistake, a principal cause of dysfunction here in the Senate is the rampant abuse of the filibuster.

    It is long past time to make the Senate a more functional body, one that is better able, as I said, to respond to our Nation's challenges. The fact is that I am not a Johnny-come-lately to filibuster reform. In January of 1995--when I was in the minority, I might add--I first introduced legislation to reform the filibuster. We got a vote on it. Obviously, we did not win, but I made my points then, and I engaged in a very good debate with Senator Byrd at that time, in 1995. You can read it in the Record. I think it was probably January 8, if I am not mistaken, of 1995.

    At that time, I submitted a resolution because, as I said, I saw an arms race in which each side would simply escalate the use of the filibuster and abuse procedural rules to a point where we would just cease to function here in the Senate. I said that at the time. I said that what happens is when the Democrats are in the minority, they abuse the filibuster against the Republicans. Then when the Republicans become the minority, they say: You Democrats did it to us 20 times, we will do it to you 30 times. Then when it switches again and the Democrats are in the minority, they say: Republicans did it to us 30 times, we will do it 50 times. We will teach them a lesson.

    On and on, the arms race is escalated. I said at the time that we might get to a point where this body simply cannot function, and sadly that is what happened.

    That is why 18 years after I first submitted my proposal, I believe reform is never more urgent and necessary. The minority leader stated that reformers advocate ``a fundamental change to the way the Senate operates.'' To the contrary, it is the abuse of the filibuster, not the reforms being advocated, that has fundamentally changed the character of this body and our entire system of government. Again, I will point out now and I will point out repeatedly in my remarks that Democrats are not guiltless in this regard by any means, but the real power grab and the real abuse has come about when the Republicans have abused this tool--one that was used sparingly for nearly 200 years.

    What has happened is that effective control of the Senate and of public policy has been turned over to the minority, not to the majority that has been elected by the American people. In many cases, those who are warning of a fundamental change to the nature and culture of the Senate are the very ones [[Page S248]] who have already carried out a revolutionary change. Those of us who are seeking to reform the filibuster rules are not the ones who are doing a nuclear option or blowing up the Senate. Those who have abused the filibuster are the ones who have already changed the character of the Senate. What we are trying to do is restore some functionality to the Senate so that the Senate can operate with due regard for the rights of the minority. I will talk about that more in a moment.

    The minority leader has recently called the filibuster ``near sacred.'' I am sorry, he could not be more incorrect. The notion that 60 votes are required to pass any measure or confirm any nominee is not in the Constitution and until recently would have been considered a ludicrous idea, flying in the face of any definition of government by democracy.

    Far from considering the filibuster ``near sacred,'' it is safe to say that the Founders would have considered a supermajority requirement sacrilegious. After all, they experimented with a supermajority requirement under the Articles of Confederation, and it was expressly rejected in the Constitution because the Framers believed it had proven unworkable. That is right, the Articles of Confederation basically had a supermajority requirement, and they found that did not work. That is why, as I will mention in a moment also, the Framers of the Constitution set out explicitly five different times that this Senate requires a supermajority. You would have thought that if they wanted a supermajority for everything, they would have said so. No, they specified treaties, impeachments, expelling a Member--those require a supermajority as expressly spelled out in the Constitution.

    The filibuster was once a tool used only in rare instances--most shamefully, as I said earlier, to block civil rights legislation. But across the entire 19th century, there were only 23 filibusters, in 100 years. From 1917, when the Senate first adopted rules to end filibusters, until 1969 there were fewer than 50--during all those years. That is less than one filibuster a year. In his 6 years as majority leader, Lyndon Johnson only faced one filibuster.

    According to one study, in the 1960s just 8 percent of major bills were filibustered. Think about all the legislation that was passed-- civil rights, Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Older Americans Act, Pell grants, Higher Education Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Think of all the legislation passed in the 1960s. Just 8 percent was filibustered. In contrast, since 2007 when Democrats regained control of the Senate, there have been over 380 motions to end filibusters--380. This does not even include the countless bills and nominations on which the majority has not even tried to obtain cloture either because of a lack of time or because we knew it would be fruitless.

    The fact is that for the first time in history, on almost a daily basis, the minority--and in many cases, just one Senator--routinely is able to and does use the threat of a filibuster to stop bills from even coming to the floor for debate and amendment. Unfortunately, moreover, because of outdated rules, an actual filibuster rarely occurs. Too often it is merely the threat of a filibuster, and that is the end of it; it is not debated or anything.

    Let's get beyond the outrageous idea that Democrats, in proposing rules reform, would be initiating a revolution. In actuality, the changes that are seriously under discussion right now are simply a modest reaction to decades of escalating warfare which has culminated in 6 years of unrelenting minority obstructionism.

    Because I feel so passionately that reform is so badly needed, I fully support the commonsense proposals from Senator Merkley and Senator Udall. Their proposals would simply require the minority to actually filibuster, actually debate. A Senator would have to come to the floor and explain his or her opposition or offer his or her views on how a bill could be improved. Under the proposed reforms, the Senators would actually have to make arguments, debate, and deliberate. Senators would have to obstruct in public and be held accountable for that obstructionism.

    Perhaps because this is such a commonsense reform, Republicans who have come to the floor have not addressed why they oppose rules that would require more transparency. Republicans have failed to explain to this body or to the public why a minority--again, the group the public chose not to govern here--why should they be able to kill a nominee by stealth? Republicans have failed to explain why they oppose more debate and more deliberation. Why do they oppose more debate, more deliberation, which is puzzling given that they profess that their sincere concerns are animated by the desire to foster debate and deliberation. But that is not what is happening. In stealth, they oppose a bill. They do not come to the floor, and they fail to defend why they do not even do that, why they will not even come to the floor and speak.

    Instead, Republican after Republican has come to the floor and denounced what they claim are Democratic efforts to eliminate the filibuster and to, in their words, ``fundamentally change'' this body. The fact is that they are attacking the wrong plan. The truth is, under the reforms proposed either by Senator Udall or Senator Merkley or one they have together or even under my proposal, the filibuster would still be a tool. Sixty votes would be needed to enact a measure, to confirm a nominee. Under their proposal, it would still require 60 votes.

    Under my proposal as I first laid out in this body in 1995, I said: You know, sure, OK, on the first vote after you have the cloture motion filed, the first vote would require 60 votes.

    If they didn't have 60 votes, they would have to wait 3 days, file another cloture motion, and then they would need 57 votes. If they didn't get 57 votes, they would have to file another cloture motion, wait 3 days, and they would need 54 votes. If they didn't get that, they would file another cloture motion, wait 3 days, and they would need 51 votes.

    Under this proposal I have worked out with other groups and other people over the last almost 20 years, the fact is the filibuster could be used for what it was intended--slow things down. I believe the Senate ought to be a place where we slow things down. It should not be a place where just a few Senators can kill a bill. This should be a place where the filibuster is used not to slow things down but is actually used to kill a bill.

    What I have proposed would be a period of time--actually up to about 16 days--where someone could slow a bill down, but eventually the majority would be able to act. I mean, what a revolutionary idea. The majority should be able to prevail. Think about our own elections. I guess maybe it could be extended further to say it is not enough to get 51 percent, or the majority of votes, we have to get 60; if they don't get that, they don't take office. What a revolutionary idea that somehow the majority should be able to move legislation.

    I also agree there should be the rights of the minority to debate, discuss, and amend legislation. Again, the majority, after ample debate and deliberation, should have the power to govern, to enact the agenda the voters voted for, and to be held accountable at the ballot box. I guess I fundamentally believe in democracy. Maybe that is a failing on my part. I fundamentally believe the majority should rule, with respect for rights of the minority.

    As I have noted, a revolution has already occurred in the Senate in recent years. Never before in the history of this Senate was it accepted that a 60-vote threshold was required for everything. This did not occur as a constitutional amendment or through any great public debate. Rather, this occurred because of the abuse of the filibuster. The minority party has assumed for itself absolute and virtually unchecked veto power over all legislation; over any executive branch nominee, no matter how insignificant the position; over all judges, no matter how uncontroversial.

    In other words, because of the filibuster, even when a party has been resoundingly repudiated at the polls, that party retains the power to prevent the majority from governing and carrying out the agenda the public elected it to implement. In this regard, over 380 filibusters is not some cold statistic. Each filibuster represents a minority of Senators--sometimes a mere [[Page S249]] handful--who are preventing the majority of the people's representatives from governing.

    As one example, Republicans repeatedly filibustered a motion to proceed to legislation that would require more disclosure of campaign donations. The DISCLOSE Act is what it was called. A substantial majority of Senators supported the bill. Polling showed that 80 percent of the public believed the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United was wrong, that we needed to know more disclosure of campaign contributions. Yet a small minority of Senators was able to prevent the bill from even being debated on the floor of the Senate, let alone receiving an up-or-down vote. That is just one example.

    In the last two Congresses, consider some of the measures blocked by the minority, measures that received majority support on a cloture vote: the DREAM Act, Bring Jobs Home Act, Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act, Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012, Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act, Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act, American Jobs Act of 2011, Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, Paycheck Fairness Act, Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act.

    Again, it is not that the bills were filibustered. The right to even debate these bills and vote on them was filibustered. It is one thing if we are on the bill and have a filibuster. No, we could not even debate them even though a majority of Senators voted for cloture. Not 60 votes but a majority. So the majority was thwarted from the ability to even bring these up and debate them or even letting people offer amendments.

    It used to be that if a Senator opposed a bill, he or she would engage in a spirited debate, try to change people's minds, attempt to persuade the public, offer amendments, vote no, and then try to hold Members who voted yes accountable at the ballot box. Isn't that what it is about? In contrast, today--and to quote former Republican Senator Charles McC. Mathias in 1994: The filibuster has become an epidemic, used whenever a coalition can find 41 votes to oppose legislation. The distinction between voting against legislation and blocking a vote, between opposing and obstructing, has nearly disappeared.

    When Senator McC. Mathias spoke and described it as an epidemic, in that Congress there were 80 motions to end filibusters. That is a number which pales in comparison to today, when we have had 380 motions to end the filibuster. To grind this body to a halt, all the minority party has to do is resort to the filibuster of a motion to proceed.

    Under the critical jobs legislation, all the minority party had to do was block the motion to proceed and then they turn around and blame the majority for failing to address the jobs crisis. We had jobs bills; we could not get them up. We had jobs bills, but then they blamed us for failing to address the jobs crisis. It is no surprise that Americans are fed up with the broken government. As that list of blocked bills demonstrates, the anger is fully justified. In too many critical areas what people see is a dysfunctional Congress that is unable to respond collectively to the urgent challenges we face.

    As the Des Moines Register recently noted: One message candidates heard from voters this election was contempt for partisan gridlock in Congress. One of the biggest obstacles to congressional action is the profusion of filibusters in the Senate.

    It is no surprise that editorials throughout the country have recognized that the use of the filibuster must be changed.

    USA Today has noted that the ``filibuster has become destructively routine.'' The Roanoke Times noted that ``filibuster reform alone will not fix everything that is wrong with Washington, but it would remove one of the chief impediments to governing.'' The Minnesota Star Tribune stated: Most Americans live under the impression that representative democracy's basic precept is majority rule. Sadly, that's no longer the case in the U.S. Senate, where the minority party has so abused the filibuster that it (the minority) now controls the action--or more accurately, the inaction. This perverts the will of the voters and should not be allowed to stand.

    Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the copies of these editorials, and others from around the country, in support of filibuster reform be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: [From the StarTribune, Dec. 25, 2012] Filibuster in Need of Major Overhaul (By Editorial Board) Most Americans live under the impression that representative democracy's basic precept is majority rule. Sadly, that's no longer the case In the U.S. Senate, where the minority party has so abused the filibuster that it (the minority) now controls the action--or more accurately, the Inaction.

    This perverts the will of the voters and should not be allowed to stand. As its first order of business next month, the new Senate should reform the filibuster rules in a way that restores fairness to the majority, preserves reasonable rights for the minority and keeps faith with the intent of the Constitution and the voting public. Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Harkin of Iowa have solid proposals for their fellow senators to consider. What they should not consider is keeping the filibuster rules the way they are.

    Let's be clear. This is not a partisan matter. The abusers in this case happen to be Republicans. They have masterfully mounted hundreds of filibusters in recent years to frustrate the majority Democrats and, in the process, have remade their leader, Mitch McConnell, into the Senate's de facto majority leader. But Democrats could--and probably would--stoop to the same depths the next time they're relegated to minority status.

    As an idea, the filibuster has merit, and when used more sparingly in the past, it has won support from this page. Not rushing to judgment is a main function of the Senate, which was intended as a deliberative body. Extending debate also protects important rights for minority views. But the minority's clear abuse of those rights has gone beyond reason.

    Here's the problem. On nearly every major bill, rather than accept a loss by a simple majority, the minority party launches a filibuster--a procedure that pushes the bill into a limbo of theoretically endless ``debate'' unless a supermajority of 60 votes can be rounded up to stop it. Getting 60 senators to agree on anything is nearly impossible. So the wheels of government grind to a halt. It's a perfect tactic for the minority, because the public tends to blame the majority for ineffectual leadership.

    But it's worse than that. To mount and maintain a filibuster takes no real effort or conviction. The minority party never has to stand up on the Senate floor to defend its position. There is no real debate, no real deliberation on the nation's important business, or on the scores of judges and other federal officials whose nominations the Senate must confirm.

    Not since 1970, when ``silent filibusters'' were adopted, have senators had to hold the floor in the manner made famous by the film ``Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'' (1939) or the endless tag-team ordeals that Strom Thurmond and other southern senators employed against civil-rights legislation in the 1960s.

    Even In those bygone days, senators reserved filibusters for extraordinary moments. But now they are routine. In his six years as majority leader, Harry Reid has faced 380 filibusters. Lyndon Johnson, in his six years as majority leader (1955-1961), dealt with one.

    ``If you had a child acting like this, you'd worry about him,'' former Vice President Walter Mondale told a University of Minnesota audience last week. As a senator, Mondale led efforts to reform the filibuster in 1975, but clearly his changes weren't enough to halt the abuse.

    Merkley's proposal would bring back the traditional ``talking filibuster.'' If more than half of senators voted to end debate, but not the 60 votes required, then senators would have to hold the floor with talking marathons.

    Harkin offers a ``sliding filibuster.'' If the 60-vote threshold to halt a filibuster isn't met, a 57-vote threshold kicks in three days later, then a 54-vote threshold three days after that. Finally, after nine days, the bill could pass by a simple majority.

    A third option is to get rid of the filibuster altogether. A pending lawsuit from Common Cause proposes just that, arguing that requiring a supermajority is unlawful except on treaties and other Matters enumerated in the Constitution.

    As currently practiced, the filibuster is a cynical affront to voters and to the precepts of representative democracy. It does not extend debate in a meaningful way. It does not make the Senates deliberative body. It does more harm than good. It should be reformed at the earliest possible moment ____ [From the Des Moines Register, Dec. 6, 2012] Time Has Come To End Senate Logjam (By The Register's Editorial Staff) One message candidates heard from voters this election was contempt for partisan gridlock in Congress. One of the biggest obstacles to congressional action is the profusion of filibusters in the Senate.

    Now is the time to reform Senate rules to break that legislative logjam.

    It's a longstanding tradition for senators to block legislation by merely talking it to [[Page S250]] death, known as a filibuster. Though by definition a filibuster means literally obstructing Senate procedures by continuous speech by members on the floor, a senator can have the same effect these days by simply threatening to filibuster. That is increasingly common.

    The only way to stop a filibuster, according to the Senate's rules, is by a ``cloture'' vote, which requires the support of three-fifths of the body, or 60 senators. The upshot is a minority of senators can block the will of the majority.

    In the past six years alone, 385 cloture motions have been filed in the Senate calling for votes to end filibusters. That is more than all of such motions filed in the 70-year period after the cloture-vote rule was created, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice. This has become so common that it is assumed a 60 percent supermajority is required for all votes.

    That was not the intent of the framers, however. The Constitution requires a supermajority vote for a limited number of issues, which means only a majority is necessary on all others.

    Still, the filibuster is deeply rooted in Senate tradition. The Senate cherishes the right of any senator to be fully heard. Thus, the rules say no senator ``shall interrupt another senator in debate without his consent.'' In other words, one senator can hold the floor as long as he or she has the capacity to speak.

    Originally one had to actually talk continuously to prevent a bill coming to a vote, which Southerners did to great effect to block civil rights laws in the 1950s. Indeed, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina still holds the record for talking 24 hours and 18 minutes in August 1957. The previous record holder was Louisiana Sen. Huey Long who would read aloud recipes, instructions on how to fry oysters and the occasional ``rambling discourse on the subject of `potlilkker','' according to one account.

    The Senate has sought to curb the filibuster before. In 1917, the rules were changed to provide for a way to end a filibuster if two-thirds of the body is in favor, or 67 votes. The threshold was lowered to three-fifths, 60 votes, in 1975.

    Some argue that changing the rules would destroy the Senate, but the party making that case is usually in the minority and is using the filibuster to frustrate the majority. Both parties are guilty of abusing the rules to make it next to impossible for the Senate to perform its duty, which is to act on legislation. Both parties should agree on a compromise to reform the filibuster.

    The Senate should agree on a rule change that recognizes the Senate's respect for hearing the views of the minority and to preserve the Senate's role in slowing reckless proposals from the House for more thoughtful consideration.

    But it should not preserve the status quo, which means that nothing gets done in the Senate, and by extension nothing gets done in Congress. That is neither the intent of the Constitution or of the American people.

    ____ [From the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 12, 2012] Go Nuclear on the Filibuster (Editorial) Harry Reid offers a plan to curb a tactic that has created gridlock in Congress. It's a good start.

    Nothing exposes partisan hypocrisy quite like the filibuster, that irksome parliamentary rule that allows a minority of U.S. senators to block legislation, judicial appointments and other business by requiring a 60-vote majority to proceed to a vote. Almost invariably, the party in power considers the filibuster to be an enemy of progress that must be squashed, while the minority fights to preserve it at all cost. That the same players often find themselves arguing from opposite sides depending on whether they control the Senate or are in the minority hardly seems to trouble most lawmakers.

    So comes now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with a campaign to alter the filibuster rule using the so- called nuclear option, which if invoked on the opening day of the new legislative session would allow senators to change the rules by majority vote. Republicans are appalled that he would consider such a ploy, even though they floated the same proposal when they held the majority in 2005. Back then, reform was blocked when a Gang of 14 senators led negotiations that kept the filibuster largely intact, and top Senate Republicans are reportedly reaching out to their Democratic counterparts in an effort to repeat that ``success.'' We hope they fail.

    For the record, we were rooting for the Republicans to go nuclear in 2005, and we feel the same way with Democrats in control. This is not a venerable rule created by the Founding Fathers to protect against the tyranny of the majority, but a procedural nicety that has been altered many times throughout history. In its current incarnation, it goes much too far and has produced gridlock in Congress.

    Reid reportedly aims to return to the era of the ``talking filibuster,'' when senators who wanted to hold up a bill had to stand up and debate it ceaselessly, day and night. This doesn't go quite far enough; Reid should also place limits on the number of opportunities for senators to mount filibusters, and put the burden on minority opponents by forcing them to come up with 40 votes to sustain a filibuster, rather than requiring the majority to drum up 60 votes to end it. Nonetheless, Reid's plan is a nice start, requiring those who want to hold up legislation to do so publicly and to use their oratorical skills to explain why such a move is justified.

    Even many Democrats realize that someday they'll be in the minority, and fret that a future Republican-dominated chamber will use Reid's precedent to put even stricter limits on filibusters. But that's no reason not to approve Reid's proposal. If some future Senate majority wants to go thermonuclear, that's a debate for another day.

    ____ [From the Baltimore Sun, Dec. 11, 2012] Ending Filibuster Abuse Our view: In a matter of weeks, incoming Senators can strike a blow for democracy and approve badly needed reforms to the chamber's dysfunctional filibuster rule.

    The announcement last week that South Carolina's Jim DeMint is leaving his Senate seat to run the Heritage Foundation caused some in Washington to wishfully think that perhaps the move might usher in a more congenial, if not cooperative, outlook in the U.S. Senate. But while Mr. DeMint set the gold standard for ideological purity (denouncing his own party's candidates from time to time when they failed to measure up to his tea party, ultraconservative viewpoint), there are still plenty in the GOP with the flexibility of a ramrod.

    The Senate's legislative logjam was well-documented long before the ``fiscal cliff' approached. Democrats may hold a majority--and will even enjoy a slightly larger one next year courtesy of the nation's voters--but the filibuster has become so abused that it's simply become a given in the chamber that passing legislation of any substance requires a 60-vote super-majority. That's the minimum required to invoke cloture and prevent or curtail a filibuster. Even getting a presidential nominee approved has become maddeningly difficult, no matter how qualified or uncontroversial the prospective judge or appointee may be.

    ____ [From Cleveland.com, Nov. 27, 2012] Get the Senate Out of Its Own Way (By the Plain Dealer Editorial Board) The founders clearly intended the U.S. Senate--with its six-year terms, its guarantee of equal representation for every state and, initially, the indirect election of its membership--to be a brake on the presumably more populist House of Representatives. There is no evidence the Constitution's architects envisioned it as a place where legislation goes to die.

    And yet that's what it has become.

    According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, the Senate has passed a record-low 2.8 percent of bills introduced during the current 112th Congress. Judicial nominations have languished on average for more than six months.

    That inaction can be tied to the increased use of filibusters--or even the threat of them--a tactic that, operationally, means it takes a supermajority of 60 votes to pass anything.

    That's not only anti-democratic--a point made in the Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison--it also is embarrassing. The Senate has simply stopped making decisions on critical issues. Each parties uses procedural tactics to frustrate the other, and as a result, the work of the American people isn't getting done.

    Now some junior Democrats want to vote on changing the Senate's rules when the 113th Congress opens in January, and Majority Leader Harry Reid says they'll get that vote. The suggested changes make sense: No more blocking motions to bring a bill to the floor or convene conference committees. And a requirement that senators who wish to filibuster a bill once again stand and talk for hours on end to block its consideration. We'd add an idea from the nonpartisan No Labels group: a 90-day deadline for confirmation votes.

    Republicans who favored similar reforms when Democrats used the rules to frustrate their majority during the Bush years now complain that Reid would destroy the Senate's culture if he rams through changes by a majority vote--and some veteran Democrats, who recall being in the minority, agree. There must be a way for Senate to resolve this impasse in a way that respects minority views, yet allows real work to proceed.

    ____ [From the Columbian, Dec. 18, 2012] Many changes will be required for Congress to overcome its current soul-crushing and will-sapping partisan divide. But even the longest journey begins with a single step, which is why the Senate should enact two quick and easy reforms when the 113th Congress convenes in January.

    No, this has nothing to do with the so-called ``fiscal cliff,'' which is a crisis that for now is wholly owned by the House of Representatives. But it is a reminder that there are pressing issues in addition to the nation's financial crisis. Among them is the fact that there is gridlock in the Senate. Yes, the austere, august Senate, originally designed as a refuge of nobility and decorum, is no more noble than the sandbox fight that is the House.

    During the past six years, Republicans used the parliamentary procedure known as a filibuster almost 400 times to waylay legislation. That is about twice as often as the [[Page S251]] procedure was used during the previous six years, and it included the filibustering of simple procedural motions. All of this suggests the Republicans have been more interested in obstructionism than productivity, and we would hope for a little less paralysis and a lot more action from the next Senate.

    To be sure, the filibuster is a necessary and often- productive method for preventing tyranny of the majority. The party that is not in power must have some means to prevent being bulldozed by an overzealous ruling party that wishes to limit debate. But the modern filibuster isn't the filibuster they taught about in your grandfather's high school Civics class.

    The traditional filibuster evokes images of a courageous legislator righteously standing up for his or her beliefs, speaking for hours on the Senate floor and resorting to reading the phone book if necessary to prevent a bill from coming to a vote. Yet the modern filibuster consists of little more than a notification that a filibuster is in effect--and that notification can be delivered anonymously. The filibuster then prevents a vote and effectively kills legislation unless a cloture vote can be passed to end the ``debate.'' This essentially means that 60 votes are required to pass any legislation out of the Senate, providing the minority party with more power than voters have willed to them.

    That brings us to our proposals: Restore the rule requiring actual floor debate to sustain a filibuster. Not only would this force senators to act on their convictions rather than their partisan predilections, but in a world of 24/7 media coverage it would allow voters to see exactly who is holding up legislation and to consider why they are doing so. If a senator wishes to read recipes in order to prevent a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, so be it. But let the country watch.

    Prohibit anonymous filibusters. If a senator wishes to prevent a vote on the Dream Act, fine. But he or she should own it, for the whole world to see. The trick is that any procedural changes governing Senate business can be passed by a simple majority--if the change is made on the first day of a new session. The 113th Congress will convene on Jan. 3, 2013, and we urge the new Senate to show that it is interested in a new way of doing business--one that actually welcomes debate and accountability rather than allowing legislators to silently and anonymously block the people's business.

    We should expect nothing less from those we send to Washington.

    ____ [From the San Bernardino County Sun, Dec. 7, 2012] Back to the Future on Filibuster Reform (By the San Jose Mercury News) The Senate needs to go back to the future on filibuster reform. Senators should have to stand their ground and raise their voices on the Senate floor, around the clock if necessary, a la Jimmy Stewart in ``Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,'' to keep legislation from coming to a vote.

    Back in the day, a minority senator had to have strong personal convictions against legislation to undertake the onerous, sleep-depriving filibuster, talking and talking and talking to block action. Today, a senator, or a group of senators, can merely threaten a filibuster, and suddenly the legislation requires a 60-vote supermajority to move forward to a vote. It's outrageous. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to change the rules, and President Obama should be helping to persuade the handful of Democratic senators who are on the fence.

    California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is one of them. She told the publication The Hill that she thinks it would be a mistake to use the Senate's power to change the filibuster rules, but she said, ``I'll listen to arguments.'' Senate Republicans' record should be argument enough. And if the parties' control of the Senate were reversed, that would be just as wrong.

    Not one filibuster was recorded in the Senate until 1841. The average in the decade of the Reagan and Carter years was about 20 per year. Senate Republicans used the filibuster a record 112 times in 2012 and have used it 360 times since 2007.

    They have stopped legislation that has widespread public support. GOP senators blocked a major military spending bill, a badly needed veterans' jobs bill and the Dream Act, all of which would have passed with a majority. They stifled the Disclose Act, which would require greater transparency in campaign advertising. In a particularly craven abuse of the system, they have halted the nominations of nearly two dozen judicial appointments, causing backlogs in courts that delay justice for people and businesses across the country.

    Some Democrats fear that Republicans will win control of the body in 2014, when 20 Senate Democrats will have to defend their seats, and they'll want the power minority Republicans have now. But then Republicans could change the rules.

    In ``Mr. Smith,'' an idealistic Jimmy Stewart used the filibuster in an admirable way. But it has an ugly history, often as a last-ditch attempt to stop overdue change. In 1957, Sen. Strom Thurmond spoke for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act, which he labeled unconstitutional and ``cruel and unusual punishment.'' The Senate is supposed to debate the great issues of the day, not stop them from being debated. Senators should change the rules and get back to work.

    ____ [From the Contra Costa Times, Dec. 3, 2012] Filibuster Rules Must Change and Lawmakers Need To Get Back To Work (Contra Costa Times editorial) The Senate needs to go back to the future on filibuster reform. Senators should have to stand their ground and raise their voices on the Senate floor, around the clock if necessary, a la Jimmy Stewart in ``Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,'' to keep legislation from coming to a vote.

    Back in the day, a minority senator had to have strong personal convictions against legislation to undertake the onerous, sleep-depriving filibuster, talking and talking and talking to block action. Today, a senator, or a group of senators, can merely threaten a filibuster, and suddenly the legislation requires a 60-vote supermajority to move forward to a vote. It's outrageous. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to change the rules, and President Obama should be helping to persuade the handful of Democratic senators who are on the fence.

    California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is one of them. She told the publication The Hill that she thinks it would be a mistake to use the Senate's power to change the filibuster rules, but she said, ``I'll listen to arguments.'' Senate Republicans'' record should be argument enough. And if the parties' control of the Senate were reversed, that would be just as wrong.

    Not one filibuster was recorded in the Senate until 1841. The average in the decade of the Reagan and Carter years was about 20 per year. Senate Republicans used the filibuster a record 112 times in 2012, and have used it 360 times since 2007.

    They have stopped legislation that has widespread public support. GOP senators blocked a major military spending bill, a badly needed veterans' jobs bill and the Dream Act, all of which would have passed with a majority. They stifled the Disclose Act, which would require greater transparency in campaign advertising. In a particularly craven abuse of the system, they have halted the nominations of nearly two dozen judicial appointments, causing backlogs in courts that delay justice for people and businesses across the country.

    Some Democrats fear that Republicans will win control of the body in 2014, when 20 Senate Democrats will have to defend their seats, and they'll want the power minority Republicans have now. But then Republicans could change the rules.

    In ``Mr. Smith,'' an idealistic Jimmy Stewart used the filibuster in an admirable way. But it has an ugly history, often as a last-ditch attempt to stop overdue change. In 1957, Sen. Strom Thurmond spoke for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act, which he labeled unconstitutional and ``cruel and unusual punishment.'' The Senate is supposed to debate the great issues of the day, not stop them from being debated. Senators should change the rules and get back to work.

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