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Will Yesterday’s Filibuster Agreement Fix The Broken Senate?

Senator Harry Reid

Senator Harry Reid

Yesterday Senator Harry Reid laid out his ultimatum to the Senate Republicans.  He called it his ‘nuclear option’.  Reid said that if the Republican Senators did not remove their objections on Presidential appointees that he would change the rules of the Senate to take away that option completely.  The Republican Senators eventually caved.  They will remove their objections and allow up and down vote on these nominees.

Yeah we won, sort of.   When all the dust settles, Americans do win this battle.  The Senate will confirm the Thomas Perez (Department of Labor), Richard Cordray (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), Gina McCarthy (EPA), and Fred Hochberg (Export-Import Bank nominee) with an up and down vote.  They also agreed to remove the NLRB nominees and replace them with two new nominees, which the Republicans have agreed not to block.

That is good news.  We are making progress and we should have two new board members on the NLRB before the August recess.

The Communication Workers of America have been pushing very hard for changes in the Senate.  They started a campaign called ‘Fix the Senate’ in which they are calling for Senator Reid to change the filibuster rule and go back to speaking filibuster. The speaking filibuster rule made Senators stand in front of the Senate when they wanted to block a bill.

CWA President Larry Cohen released this statement:

“It’s likely that we’ll see four of the seven nominations go forward as part of the agreement reached by the Senate, and that’s positive. This encourages us that we can move toward a 21st century democracy when, as in this case, we build a broad coalition like Fix the Senate Now to mobilize Americans and make sure their voices are heard.”

Cohen also raised his concerns about the nominations to the NLRB.

“Today’s Senate action does raise this question: of the seven nominations, why were two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board singled out?

President Obama will nominate two good candidates to the NLRB who will stand up for the workplace rights of 80 million working Americans.”

Why WERE the NLRB nominees singled out? That is a very interesting question.  Will the Republicans Senators hold true to their word that they will not object to two new nominees?  Are they doing this to delay the appointment of these members in an underhanded attempt to effectively shut down the NLRB?

Cohen continues, “Our path for change remains the Fix the Senate Now coalition, an organization of unions, civil rights and community groups, greens, people of faith and others. We will continue to work together to fix the broken Senate and to ensure that a Democratic majority on the NLRB is confirmed before the August recess as the Senate has assured.”

Sen. Mitch McConnellWhile everyone agrees that today’s actions by the Senate are a big step forward, however did we really win anything?  We may have won this battle, but the war is far from over.  How long will it be before the Senate Republicans block another nominee, or another piece of legislation?  We still need to push to change the filibuster rule in the Senate.  The Senate has become a black hole due to the fact that the minority blocks every bill the majority is pushing.  These obstructionists have created a system where the minority has all the power and they are abusing it.

Will this new ‘let’s work together’ attitude continue past the end of the week?  Lets not forget the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that was made about filibustering every bill back in January.  That agreement seemed to last about a week before the Republicans went back to their old bad habits.  Only time will tell who is telling the truth and who is not.


GOP Block Sequester Reform Bill; How Much Are We Regretting Not Changing The Rule Now?

In the beginning of the year there was a lot, I mean a lot of discussion about changing the filibuster rule in the US Senate.  Throughout the country Americans were calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to use his power in the Senate to change the current filibuster rule.

Fo those who do not know or understand what a filibuster is, let me give you a little background.   The filibuster is a way for the majority to hold up legislation from passing the Senate by a a simple majority vote.  Originally a Senator would have to stand in the Senate chamber and talk, and talk, and talk, until he would win over enough votes to vote the bill down, or the Senator is overruled by a 2/3rd vote.  The best example of this comes from the American movie classic ‘Mr Smith goes to Washington’.

This ‘talking’ filibuster was the standing rule in the Senate until the 1970s.  Prior to that a Senator could do anything, including reading his favorite recipes to keep talking.  In fact in the 1930’s that is exactly what Senator Wayne Morse did for 15 hours.  The only way to stop a filibuster was to evoke a term called ‘cloture’. Cloture requires 60 of the 100 Senators to agree to stop the debate, therefore ending the filibuster.

Sadly in the 1970s  this rule was changed to the the current version of the filibuster.  Now there is no longer a ‘talking’ requirement to filibuster a bill.  Now a minority can just say they are going to filibuster a bill, forcing a cloture (60 of 100) vote before the Senate can move forward on a bill.

Of course I am going to talk about how the current GOP Leadership in the Senate is using this to literally block everything that is going through the Senate right now.  And yes I know that Democrats in the past have used the same rule to stop legislation when the Senate was under a GOP rule.

The current GOP leadership in the Senate is using this rule to stop things they have never done before.  Recently they held up the confirmation of Secretary Hagel.  For the first time ever, a filibuster was used to hold up a cabinet appointment.

Now the GOP leaders in the Senate are once again using the filibuster to stop the sequestration reform bill from passing.  They are refusing to raise revenues or close loopholes in the current tax code to balance the spending cuts they are screaming for.   When Senator Reid called for a vote on the Democratic option, it passed with a 51-49 majority, but failed to meet the 60 vote cloture requirement.  So once again the GOP is the Senate have effectively stopped this legislation from moving to the House.

I wonder how Senator Reid is feeling about his gentlemans agreement with Senator McConnell to ‘reduce the number of filibusters’, instead of changing the rules?  I wonder if he is regretting that decision now? Bring back the days of a talking filibuster. If you have a problem with the proposed legislation, let everyone know that you are opposed to it by standing in front of the entire Senate (and the country).  Say what you have to say. If you are persuasive enough your filibuster will prevail, if not then the majority rules.  Only when we can change this rule will we get to a point where legislation will once again move through the Senate.

Take Action Today To Fix The Senate And End The Silent Filibuster

If you’re like me, you are fed up with what’s been happening in Congress lately.

Important legislation that addresses the tough issues that we are facing never reaches the Senate floor.

The reason? Misuse of the filibuster.

The filibuster used to be an important tool that gave the minority a real voice in the Senate. But today Senators regularly hold “silent” filibusters, stopping important legislation without ever having to stand on the floor of the Senate to explain why.

We have a rare chance to fight back against business as usual in Washington. But we must act now, before the Senate votes on the rules for the new session of Congress.

Call your Senators at 1-866-937-5062 to demand change.

What do the DREAM Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Employee Free Choice Act and DISCLOSE campaign finance reform have in common? All four bills passed the House of Representatives and gained majority support in the Senate. But they did not become law because of the silent filibuster.1

Many Senators are as frustrated as we are with this lack of progress. Senators Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall have introduced Senate Resolution 4 to fix the problem. Resolution 4 replaces the silent filibuster with the “talking” filibuster, to ensure that Senators who oppose a bill have to speak on the Senate floor to explain their objections.

It’s clear that in order to move our agenda forward we must fix the filibuster. Ask your Senators to co-sponsor Senate Resolution 4 today.

1The Washington Post, 17 bills that likely would have passed the Senate if it didn’t have the filibuster, December 5, 2012.

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