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Changing the Rules of the Game


In Congress – as in wrestling – sometimes the rules make the all the difference in who wins or loses.

That’s why the upcoming fight over the Senate filibuster means a lot to working families.

The filibuster is a procedural method that the minority party can use to perpetually delay any legislation it doesn’t like.  If a bill doesn’t get to the Senate floor for a vote, it doesn’t ever get passed – even if a majority of the Senate would vote to approve it.  It’s a back-door way for the minority party to kill legislation, or at least hold the bill up in Committee until it is amended to the satisfaction of the filibustering Senators.

photo by Diane Beckwith-Zink via Flikr

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown
photo by Diane Beckwith-Zink via Flikr/Creative Commons

Remember two years ago, when Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown “single-handedly” blocked an extension of unemployment benefits?  Senate Republicans used the filibuster to hold up the bill until it was amended to include an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.  (The final version cost $900 billion; but only 6% of that cost was for unemployment benefits.)

That’s how the filibuster works – and works against working families.

Using the Senate filibuster to kill legislation is such an “inside game” that – at least as far as we can tell – no one has been tracking filibusters in recent years.  But during the last campaign season, Progress Massachusetts looked closely at Scott Brown’s voting record and came up with 40 bills that would have passed the Senate – if they hadn’t been killed by a Republican filibuster.  The list includes:

  • Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (the original financial regulatory reform bill);
  • Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act;
  • Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act of 2010;
  • American Jobs Act of 2011;
  • Rebuild America Jobs Act;
  • Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2011; and
  • The Buffett Rule (a 30% effective tax rate on income exceeding $1 million).

All of those bills would have passed the Senate – if they had ever gotten to the floor for a vote.

So, here’s what may be changing:

Yesterday, Majority Leader Harry Reid said that when the Senate is sworn in next January, “he will attempt to diminish the power of Republicans to slow or stop legislation by putting limits on the filibuster. …Mr. Reid would like to limit what procedural motions are subject to filibusters, and to force senators to return to the practice of standing around forever, reading the phone book or what have you, if they choose to filibuster a bill before its final passage.”

Yes, it will be just a procedural change to Senate Rules (if it happens).

But just think where our country might be, now, if the Senate had been able to actually vote on all those bills that Scott Brown helped block.

 

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About Liz Iacobucci

Liz Iacobucci is the former Public Information Officer for the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, SEIU Local 1984. Over the past three decades, she has served in government at the federal, state and municipal levels; and she has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians.
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