Democratic leaders: Filibuster reform crucial to fight Republican gridlock
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Democratic leaders: Filibuster reform crucial to fight Republican gridlock

Washington : DC : USA | Jan 06, 2013 at 11:34 AM PST
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Elizabeth Warren, the freshman Democratic senator from Massachusetts, vowed to fight for filibuster reform during her campaign and on her “thank you” tour in November after she won Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat.

Warren joins members of Congress who have engaged in supporting legislation to reform the filibuster rule, including senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who have co-sponsored a bill for legislative consideration.

Since the birth of the filibuster in 1917, it has gradually become an overused tool primarily by Republicans, who invoked it 380 times in the past six years.

Almost a century ago, Woodrow Wilson complained that a “small group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own,” was making it difficult for others to advance their agendas in Congress. So the original filibuster rule was adopted to end prolonged debate in the Senate with a supermajority of votes.

Amazingly, the reason for using the rule hasn’t changed much, but the procedure itself has undergone dramatic changes, including the fact that one member can stop a Senate action simply by sending an email saying they are imposing a filibuster. Gone are the days of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” when vigorous deliberation was expected from the individual who employed the filibuster rule.

The Udall-Merkley-Harkin bill wants to bring the talking/deliberation element back to the process, which would force public accountability and restrict members from stalling on substantive issues. Their resolution calls for the elimination of the filibuster rule on motions to proceed, with a debate limit of two hours.

A YouGov.com poll published in the Huffington Post found that 97 percent of Americans believe politicians should be physically present during the filibusters they open.

“We have the power to change the Senate from being a graveyard for good ideas to an institution that can respond effectively to the challenges facing our nation,” Udall said in a statement. “Our proposal is simple, limited and fair. We make reasonable changes to nominations and conference committees and do away with the status quo of stealth and silent filibusters that prevents the Senate from getting its work done.”

The filibuster, according to Merkley, has been used excessively to advance hyperbolic rhetoric and partisan politics and it needs to end.

However, not all Democrats agree with the proposed bill, including Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who has teamed up with John McCain (R-Ariz.) co-sponsor a different bill. According to a report in The Hill, the Levin-McCain bill would retain the requirement of 60 votes to advance legislation, proceed to new business, send a Senate-passed bill to conference and approve nominees, but it would not require senators to actively hold the floor to wield a filibuster.

Nonetheless, it has been primarily Republicans, who recoil at the horror of having to stand on the Congressional floor and explain their opposition to a bill or nominee—for the whole world to hear—instead of pushing the “send” button, then heading out for a game of golf.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday extended the “first legislative day” until Jan. 22 to give time for more debate on filibuster reform.

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Jean Williams, environmental journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.

PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.

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