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bito On December - 25 - 2010

Is it Time?

Will the 112th senate on January the 5th , 2011 convene as a continuing body, as it has in the past, with all the old rules intact?  Or should it use, as has been called, the “constitutional option” and convene as a new body and reform the rules, especially the filibuster rules?   This is a rare opportunity when a simple majority rules and cannot be put on a hold or filibustered by a single senator.

As reported in many publications all new and returning Democratic Senators have signed a letter pledging to have filibuster reform.
From the National Journal:

“All Democratic senators returning next year have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to consider action to change long-sacrosanct filibuster rules. “

What will be the new rules?  Should the liberal democrats jeopardize the filibuster now, knowing that they will at some time again be in the minority, and pass their agenda in the short term and face the consequences in the long term?  Are they that confident that “once done” it is more difficult “undone’?  Are they attempting to do what is good for the country and not just the party or is this a but a folly?  Should the senate remain as the “cooling saucer”  for the house’s  morning cuppa?

Some of the most progressive Senators (Tom Udall -D. NM., Tom Harkin, D-IW, Sherrod Brown , D-OH,……..Think that the time is ripe to both move the country forward, while still protecting the minority party’s rights.

“Although Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa., has long backed filibuster reform, Senate rules changes have primarily been pushed this year by newer members, including Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Udall; and McCaskill.

I have read the proposal by Jeff Merkley, D-ORE, and find his ideas quite thoughtful.  Please take a moment to read.

Thoughts on Reform of Senate Procedures

Right now, both the Senate and the country can be crippled by one senator , perhaps one from a state that has less population in their state than a county/district in many states.  While some like to believe we live in a rural setting, over 80% of the population lives, commutes and depends on an urban center.  No, we cannot all step out on the back porch and shoot ourselves dinner, pick our salad and veges or catch the meal in the local brook, yet some senators think we can, and block an amendment/bill that may benefit the majority of the populace.

Should we continue to have one senator block a bill paying for the medical care for the 9/11 workers?   Should we allow nameless senators filibuster unemployment benefits without a tax cut for the top 2%?  Let them stand on the floor and defend their convictions?  Let them debate in what is supposed to be a”the greatest debating institution in the world” instead of hiding behind a curtain of rules.  If they believe in their convictions, I say let them stand on the floor of the Senate and defend them!  The rules, as they stand now, are no better than “hiding behind your mamas apron” or “my daddy can beat up your daddy.”
They don’t even have to go to the floor to object to a bill going forward.
A senator can stop a bill with zero transparency.

Is there a way to both satisfy and protect the minority and fulfill the constitutional requirement calling for the “general welfare”?
Progressive or regressive, my POV is defend it, on the floor of the, allegedly, most deliberative body in the world,  minus the endless quorum calls, while they fight over rules and bills behind the curtains.
Beyond my POV, I wish all to study this question. I invite a discussion on our Planet and whatever your thoughts may be write your senators.
Regardless of  my or your thoughts and options, the time is ripe and it appears that change is ahead.    The first change in senate rules since 1975, and a major change.

Some reading:

Thoughts on the Reform of Senate Procedures

Senate’s Returning Democrats Unanimously Favor Filibuster Reform

Filibuster Reform Legacy

It Is Time for Procedural Reform in the U.S. Senate

A Productive Congress doesn’t weaken the case for filibuster reform

Written by bito

Was once a handsome frog until kissed by an ugly corporate princess.----- Like a well honed knife, the internet can be a wonderful and useful tool. It can be used to prepare and serve a delicious meal or it can be used to cause harm. peace

28 Responses so far.

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  1. Chernynkaya says:

    Oh, dear. I just heard Ezra Klein explaining why the Dems’ proposal for filibuster reform is actually GOOD FOR REPUBS. It guarantees them 3 amendments to any bill, while not speeding up the process, nor changing the 60 vote rule. Jesus.

  2. bito says:

    Here is a .pdf of the Senate Resolution on filibuster reform.


    Quite readable for a bill. 😉

  3. bito says:

    I am stealing this article from Kalima in this morning’s MB to add to the reading list. It’s from Tomasky’s blog.

    The filibuster situation

    While I still am in favor of filibuster reform, the wrinkles in getting it passed often confound me. I have read many different scenarios on how this can/will be accomplished. Wouldn’t it be a pleasant surprise if there was a movement away from the good of the party and to the good of the country?

    • bito says:

      Thank You Cher, I could have moved it, but I like it in two places. Good article. In the comment section there are 3 comments, 2 complain about the article being too long!! HA, they are not readers of The Nation, ya think? Talk about your dumb and dumber! Since they opened up the comments to non-subscribers, I rarely comment.

  4. chinshihtang says:

    Good piece;. I would add one additional wrinkle and a possible solution to it: the current Senate rules require a two-thirds majority to change its rules (!) In principle, this could be overridden by a simple majority, but that could be subject to being ruled “out of order” by the parliamentarian or even challenged in court.

    To avoid a logjam about logjams, an agreement with the Minority Leader to allow the rule change vote could help. What would persuade him to allow it? A promise--secret, possibly--to allow the House’s form of repeal of healthcare to come to the Senate for a floor vote relatively promptly (which the Republicans would not otherwise be able to get). It wouldn’t pass--even if it did it would be successfully vetoed by President Obama--but the debate could put both parties in a better light with the public, and it would allow the Republicans their symbolic victory of being able to vote for repeal.

    Here’s my post on the subject: http://chinshihtang.blogspot.com/2011/01/senate-rules-ok.html

    • kesmarn says:

      Chinshihtang, a sincere welcome to the Planet. Hope to hear more from you!

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Hello-- welcome Chinshihtang!

    • bito says:

      Welcome, Chris.
      I was of the understanding that instead of opening the session as a “continuing body”, which is what is usually done, and maintaining the old rules, they can open the session as a “new body” and change the rules, as they do in the House.

      Not familiar of the SCOTUS ever getting involved in Rules of Congress--separation of power.

      Your post is very good, can you clarify the “new/continuing” body subject that I have heard spoken about?

    • bito says:

      The President may have to warm up the veto pen if this is attempted and they WH better get a better PR staff than he has had so far.

      • javaz says:

        President Obama surprises me at times, because it seems like I’m always expecting the worst.

        I think I read too many left-wing websites that are so critical of our president and it seems like the majority of the left-wing blogosphere is anti-Obama.

        Reading all that negativity has a negative effect on me and I’m trying to break myself from believing every thing that I read on left-wing blogs.

        My New Years resolution is to stop reading the Internet so much, and stop reading the left-wing sites.

        It just gets to me that the political machine is a never ending cycle.

        We never seem to celebrate the victories, no matter how small, when we’re onto another thing that the dastardly Republicans are going to do or the dastardly things that Obama might do.

        I’d rather read about the actual legislation and bills that are passed or shot down, than read all the opinion and speculation.

        You’ve said it many times, B’ito, that the news we see isn’t news but punditry.

        And to be perfectly honest -- I really do not understand the filibuster talk going on.
        I need to read ‘Filibuster for Dummies’!

  5. javaz says:

    Unfortunately, could not open the ‘Thoughts On Reform’ article -- some sort of error.

    I really do not know what to think about any of this but am looking forward to reading more opinions.

    • bito says:

      I don’t know why it didn’t open for you j’avaz, I tried both links to it and they worked for me. Anyone else have a problem??

      • javaz says:

        It’s a pdf file and the message is :

        There was an error opening this document. File could not be repaired.

        It might be that we need to update the acrobat reader?
        Or something else -- adobe flash?
        We can’t download the updates and have even tried going to the library and copying the downloads onto a stick, but for some reason, the download crashes on the home PC.

  6. Chernynkaya says:

    This is such an important topic, bito, and since I just woke up, I will wait before I engage in this great discussion. But I just want to add something I heard --I think Ezra Klein say-- last week.

    For the past two years, we have seen minority obstruction on an unprecedented scale, yet at the same time we have simultaneously seen one of the most productive Congressional session. What a dichotomy!

    The point Ezra made is that the 111th was an anomaly--the Dems had a majority the likes of which we haven’t had since 1975 and might not see again (on either side) for a long time. That super majority (and yes, it WAS a big tent with several Conservadems)was why we got so much accomplished.

    He asked: Are the dangers to the country that the Congress will do too much or too little? There are so many issues that require legislation (health care costs, environment, crumbling infrastructure, and on and on.) We cannot allow a dysfunctional Senate at a time when problems abound that won’t wait.

    On the other hand-- I very much worry that if the Repubs get in power, they will have nothing to restrain them.

    • bito says:

      Cher, I added the Ezra Klein article to the reading list.
      Reading the Merkley proposal, my understanding is that the filibuster would still exist, but it would require members to stand up to their convictions on the floor, not just use it as a threat to filibuster.
      I have the same anxieties that you have with the R’s being in the majority.

  7. boomer1949 says:

    Yes, I know what time it is, and I am far beyond my “sleepy bye” time, but seriously dissing all the Constitutional arguments, whinigs, and blah, blah blahs, the entire institution needs to be 1) reevaluated, 2)taken down a notch or two, preferably at the knees mind you, 3)forced, and I mean FORCED to vote as representatives of their constituents, and forced, and I mean FORCED to set aside “personal and party” ideology; not theirs to choose.

  8. Khirad says:

    Merkley is awesome. Even my sister’s partner got her to vote for him. He’s a keeper as far as I’m concerned. 😉

    That being said, I’m standing by my convictions. I said I’d like it if Democrats hadn’t been blocked at every step like that, and, while satisfying it would be to hear them whine and moan when Dems did the same thing (not respecting the will of the people, blah, blah, blah -- only applies when Pubs win).

    We are always talking about parliamentary systems. Well, this is what you get. The ruling party actually gets to rule. If we could deal with all the crap the Pubs get through when they likely win the senate in another two years, after the pendulum swings back to the Dems again… -- well -- … I’ll admit, that is a long way away politically and perhaps the Pubs will have used their new power to irrevocably change the nation by then into a corporate hellscape.


    I’d just happy if they took away the anonymity. And, I’d love to hear the GOP argue against transparency and accountability. Though you know they will, and somehow manage to convince people they’re the ones really for it.

  9. bito says:

    Dissing my POV is welcome.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      You are WRONG WRONG WRONG!

      -- sorry, couldn’t resist, in the absence of anything intelligent to add.

    • Khirad says:

      More than that, working on a holiday?

      You’re gonna make the baby Jesus cry. 😉

    • kesmarn says:

      That sounds mighty liberal to me, pardner. Aren’t we supposed to resort to hair-pulling, arm twisting, and, if all else fails, reloading during discussions? Oh, that’s right…this isn’t HP or Wasilla.

      I’m still doing the readings, b’ito…don’t want to come to the discussion unprepared.

      But this is a great topic for conversation, since it’s sure to be one of the first things on the agenda in January. Thanks so much for getting it out there, especially the resource material.

      • bito says:

        k’es, I appreciate you reading some of the background, but I do wonder with the such unequal stratification in incomes and having to trade a benefit for the top 0.025 for the “bottom” 99.975% (heh, it’s too late for math) is worthy of a filibuster by 1(one) senator that has nothing but self-interest on his mind.
        Oh, those pesky facts, my dear, the knee-jerk reaction is to let things stand, but does that help the janitor or the hedge-fund manager?
        Yes, Shelly, I am both a socialist and a patriot. take me to your new HUAC!!

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