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  • Filibuster Reform a Bust?


    Reformers don't obtain talking filibuster measure, say it's crucial to democratic process in Senate - an institution designed to suppress popular will -   January 28, 2013
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    Filibuster Reform a Bust?FOR MANY, THE WORD FILIBUSTER CONJURES UP IMAGES OF THE CLASSIC FILM MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. JIMMY STEWARD PLAYING SENATOR JEFFERSON SMITH HOLDS THE SENATE FLOOR FOR HOURS IN ORDER TO DELAY A VOTE .

    NAT SOUND - "Somebody will listen.....somebody."

    BUT THAT'S HOLLYWOOD'S RENDITION.

    IN THE 112TH CONGRESS, SENATORS WERE ABLE TO OBSTRUCT LEGISLATION GOING TO A VOTE WITHOUT EVEN BEING ON THE SENATE FLOOR. IT'S CALLED A SILENT FILIBUSTER.

    AND HOW DO YOU END IT? IT TAKES 60 VOTES TO END DEBATE IN WHAT IS KNOWN AS CLOTURE.

    IN THIS GRAPH CREATED BY THE BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE, IT SHOWS THAT SINCE 2006, 385 CLOTURE MOTIONS HAVE BEEN FILED. THAT'S MORE THAN THE NUMBER OF CLOTURES FILED IN 70 YEARS BETWEEN 1917 AND 1988, ILLUSTRATING HOW FILIBUSTERS HAVE BEEN ON THE RISE.

    THE LAST CONGRESS WAS HISTORICALLY UNPRODUCTIVE -- PASSING A RECORD LOW OF 2.8 PERCENT OF ALL INTRODUCED BILLS.

    THESE ACTIONS OR INACTIONS EARNED THE 112TH CONGRESS THE NAME - THE DO-NOTHING CONGRESS.

    IT MADE HISTORY A SECOND TIME WHEN SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNEL FILLBUSTERED HIS OWN BILL.

    BUT WITH A NEW CONGRESS IN SESSION, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID SAID HE WANTED TO PASS FILIBUSTER REFORM.

    SOT (Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader): I think that the rules have been abused. And that we're going to work to change them. We're not going to do away with the filibuster. But we're going to make the Senate a more meaningful place. We're going to make it so so that we can get things done.

    SENATOR REID AND SENATOR MCCONNELL ARRIVED AT A BACKROOM DEAL THAT MODESTLY LIMITS THE USE OF THE FILIBUSTER.

    AND ON JANUARY 24TH, THE SENATE FILIBUSTER REFORM BILL PASSED WITH 78 VOTES IN FAVOR AND 16 VOTES OPPOSED.

    AS PART OF THE BILL, THE MAJORITY - CURRENTLY THE DEMOCRATS - CAN ORDER A DEBATE ON A BILL WITHOUT THE PREVIOUSLY REQUIRED 60 VOTES. BUT BOTH PARTIES MUST BE ALLOWED TWO AMENDMENTS TO ANY BILL.

    THIS IS A FAR CRY FROM A PROPOSAL PRESENTED BY DEMOCRATIC SENATOR JEFF MERKLEY OF OREGON AND OTHER LAWMAKERS. THEY CALLED FOR AN END TO THE SILENT FILIBUSTER AND THE END TO THE 60 VOTE REQUIREMENT IN ORDER TO CEASE DEBATE.

    AFTER A CAUCUS LUNCH, SENATOR MERKLEY SPOKE WITH THE REAL NEWS NETWORK EXPRESSING THAT CRITICS HAVE MISLABELED HIS REFORM AS AN EFFORT TO SILENCE THE MINORITY.

    SOT ( Sen. Jeffrey Merkly (D-OR): Anything that I've supported, I'll support int the minority. That was the litmus test. That you can still filibuster an amendment, you can still filibuster the bill. But if you choose to vote for additional debate, then as an individual you're committing yourself that there's more to say. I think there should be a dialogue in front of the American people. I'm going to make my claims. And I have the courage in my convictions to stand before others and do that, stand before the citizens and do that. They can weigh in on whether they think I'm a hero or a bum.

    STANDUP (Jessica Desvarieux, Capitol Hill Correspondent): With Senate Democrats in the majority, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid earlier warned Republicans that he would push filibuster reform through the Senate without Republican support. But since he chose not use this constitutional option, some reformers were left disappointed -- arguing that silent filibusters keep the American public in the dark.

    SOT (Shane Larson, Legislative Director - CWA): Let the American public see for themselves and hear for themselves why you think this bill or this nomination or whatever it is such a bad idea or such a bad nomination that you're trying to slow it down. Let them help judge as well also. And so you have to explain yourself. So that's one of the big reforms that we're looking for.

    SHANE LARSON IS A LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA. HE IS A PART OF A DIVERSE GROUP OF ORGANIZATIONS KNOWN AS FIX THE SENATE NOW. THEY HAVE SPENT HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON A TV AD CAMPAIGN TO GET THE PUBLIC AWARE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF FILIBUSTER REFORM.

    AD NAT SOUND BREAK

    FIX THE SENATE NOW WAS STARTED BEFORE THE 112TH CONGRESS IN DECEMBER 2010 BUT DEMOCRATS STILL CONTROLLED THE MAJORITY. LARSON SAYS REGARDLESS OF WHICH PARTY IS IN POWER, THESE REFORMS DO NOT TAKE AWAY THE MINORITY PARTY'S RIGHT TO FILIBUSTER.

    SOT (Shane Larson, Legislative Director - CWA): But the filibuster can be used to help slow down legislation. We've seen its benefit over the years. What we're asking for doesn't take that way. It would still allow the minority to have a right to speak, to have a voice on the Senate floor and be able to slow things down. The difference is is that you can't just slow things down for the sake of slowing things done. Or the silent filibuster that we're seeing. You actually have to take the floor and explain it.

    REGARDLESS OF WHICH PARTY IS IN POWER, UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS BOSTON POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR TOM FERGUSON ARGUES THAT THE SENATE WAS DESIGNED TO GIVE SENATORS LEGISLATIVE LEVERAGE TO SLOW DOWN THE PASSING OF BILLS.

    SOT (Tom Ferguson, Political Science Professor, UMass - Boston): Fundamentally, think of the US Senate as the world's most exclusive private club. In which, I remember my time in Washington when I was a elevator operator. US Senators looked like the most expensive tropical fish in the tank. And you could tell them immediately when they got on your elevator.The thing about Senators because of this ability that one or two of them can stop everything by talking or filibustering, it gives them enormous leverage. It's effectively close to an individual veto. The Senate was plainly designed as check on popular power. You could thwart democracy and simultaneously satisfy the with the two house legislative. They killed many birds with one stone.

    FERGUSON ADDS THAT THOUGH THESE REFORMS RE-ENFORCE GOVERNANCE BY A SUPER MAJORITY, BUT THERE IS ONE MAJOR IMPROVEMENT TO THE NEW RULES.

    SOT (Tom Ferguson, Political Science Professor, UMass - Boston): The decision to put some limits on how long you delay confirmation on lower level federal employees and judges. You've come to an effect that the government often paralyzed. Everyone is running around with interim appointments while Congress is out of session. This is not a great change and you're still going to have government by super majority unless some side really wants it or at least most of the time.

    THE NEXT TIME, THE SENATE WILL BE ABLE TO PROVE HOW EFFECTIVE THESE NEW RULES ARE WILL BE IN MARCH. THE 113TH CONGRESS WILL BE NEGOTIATING THE HIGHLY CONTROVERSIAL SEQUESTER CUTS AND THE BUDGET RESOLUTION.

    IT'S THEN THE PUBLIC WILL SEE IF THE FILIBUSTER REFORM WAS A TOTAL BUST.

    FOR THE REAL NEWS NETWORK, JESSICA DESVARIEUX, WASHINGTON.


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