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November 28, 2012

Filibuster 'Reform' Is a Partisan Power Grab


The current push to reform the filibuster is merely a partisan power grab.

The Senate does not have a Senate's rules deficiency, but a serious breakdown in comity between the parties. The majority party is trying to change the rules so that they can cut the minority party out of the deliberative process completely. It was wrong when Republicans discussed it in 2005, and it's wrong for Democrats to try in the next Congress.

The Senate has a long history of extended debate and unlimited amendments to legislation. Our Founding Fathers envisioned a House of Representatives to represent the will of the people and the United States Senate to represent the interests of the States. Also, the House has members elected every two years and the Senate has members with staggered terms every six years. The Senate, unlike the House, is a continuing body with rules that continue from Congress to Congress.

What Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to do is to toss aside the idea that the Senate is a continuing body so he can use brute force to change the Senates rules on a party line vote. Under Reid's leadership, amendments have been blocked as a means to marginalize rank-and-file members of both caucuses. Any change to limit the minority party's right to filibuster legislation or nominations would further aggrandize power in the majority leader's office. This would severely limit debate and further limit opportunities for members to offer amendments contrary to the long history of the Senate.

There are some "filibuster reform" ideas on the table, including Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley, Tom Harkin, and Tom Udall. Yet those changes will cause more partisanship, not less. It will allow Reid to use party line votes to further the Obama agenda without sufficient opportunities for all members of the Senate to fully debate and amend legislation.

I agree with Reid's statement in 2006 when he argued, "I am going to do everything I can to preserve the traditions and rules of this institution I love." I also agree with then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois when he said in 2005: "If the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put and end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse."

First appeared in US News & World Report's "Debate Room."

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