Monday, April 25, 2005


The link above is to an animation put together by the Alliance for Justice. It depicts a cute and cuddly cartoon character talking about the Republicans effort to squash the filibuster. No mention is paid however to the fact that the Republicans' efforts are limited to judicial nominees. While I can understand we're all afraid of the "slippery slope of politics," I don't believe anyone in the Senate Republicans thinks they have the votes to suspend all filibusters, nor would they desire to completely abolish Senate Rule XIII. That piece of misinformation aside, I would like to point out some of my favorite tid bits from the website. If the people of America allow those maniacal Republicans to get rid of the filibuster they would essentially be rubber-stamping the following policies, which have been condoned by those "crazy right-wing" judges:

Paved the way for the U.S. government to torture people it detains, and for U.S. citizens to be imprisoned without getting a lawyer or going to court

Compared federal laws protecting the environment to the tyranny of King George III over the colonists

Suggested that Social Security is unconstitutional, and accused senior citizens who receive it of "blithely cannibaliz[ing] their grandchildren because they have a right to get as much free stuff" as they can.

Okay, so the website is ridiculous. We can all agree on that...I hope. But what gets me is the fact that for all that cute "Phil A. Buster" talks about the Right Wing's attempts to ride rough shod over 200 years of Senate precedent (well it's actually about 198 years, but who's counting?) , he never mentions that the last, and more serious, effort to abolish the filibuster came from DEMOCRATS.

On January 5, 1995 the Senate, led by Senators Harkin, Lieberman, and Pell (D-RI), considered an amendment to S. Res. 14, providing for the erosion of the ability to filibuster all bills (not just judicial nominees!). Harkin proposed a decreasing system, in which over the course of a month the requirement for cloture on bills would slowly be decreased from 60 to 51. This is similar to what Senator Trent Lott has proposed to do about judicial nominees, which coincidentally all Democrats have opposed. The opposition to the amendment was led by none other than Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who advocated a reverence for tradition and used similar rhetoric to his current floor speeches. Needless to say, I have much more respect for Senator Byrd's attack on Republican attempts today, as he attacked Democrats with equal vigor in 1995. In the end, all Senate Republicans voted for tabling the amendment and not discussing it further, whereas 19 Democrats voted for continued consideration of the amendment. Some of those Democrats are still in the Senate today: Bingaman, Boxer, Feingold, Harkin, Kennedy, Kerry, Lautenberg, Lieberman. Below are a few choice quotes from two of these members, who have remarkably stayed quiet in recent days on their previous support for ending the filibuster:

The filibuster may have made some sense at one point; it may have been a reasonable idea, but it in fact has been badly misused in our time. You can pick your favorite statistic, but the one that I saw a while ago was that there were more filibusters in the last session of the Senate than in the first 108 years combined.
Others will tell you there have been more since 1990 than the preceding 140 years combined. Whatever the years, it is pretty obvious we have come to a point in the history of this Chamber where the filibuster, the ability of one Member to stand up and stop the body from functioning effectively and to block the will of the majority, is a contributor to gridlock and to our inability to produce and, therefore, to public frustration which is in the air and we are attempting as best we can to respond to them.
This right of unlimited speech for Members of the Senate in the particular context of our rules, it seems to me, requires at this point, based on what we have experienced, limitations. Because the ability of an individual Senator to stop the process, the capacity of a minority to make it impossible for a majority to work its will and represent the majority of constituents back home, has come to a point where it has too often threatened the ability of this Chamber to function, to represent, to lead, to be truly deliberative in the sense that we mean it.

I think, Mr. President, that it is important or at least noteworthy, let me put it that way, it is noteworthy that the first vote of this new Congress in the Senate will be a vote on whether we slay this dinosaur called a filibuster. It will be our first vote. It will take place at 11:30, a little over an hour from now. Will we heed what the voters have said, that they want this place to change? That they want us to be more productive. Or is it going to be ''business as usual?'' Stick with a filibuster.
You know the very word ''filibuster'' conjures up images of the past, horses and buggies, outdoor privies, lamplighters. The very word itself conjures up the 18th and 19th century. So, the first vote of this session, are we for change? Or are we for the status quo? Did we get the message in the election? Or are we going to give the American people more of the same of what they had over the last several years?

Anyways, whatever your opinion on modifying Rule XIII, we can thank goodness Republicans are not prepared, as some Democrats were, to completely discard filibusters in all legislative business. But hey, on the bright side, had Democrats gotten their way back then we wouldn't be having these problems with judicial confirmations.

Note: To any would-be commenter (ahem, Rabbit...), I'd rather not discuss the
ads that I neither endorse or agree with from places like the Family Research Council. This is merely a commentary on the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party on this issue. While it is true the Republicans did vote against the Harkin Amendment to S. Res. 14 in 1995, this is not a blatant show of hypocrisy. To reiterate my earlier point, the current Republican tactic is not a full fledged attack on "Phil A. Buster" but rather a limited restriction on its exercise. But for the Democrats to somehow support the broader exercise of majority authority and disagree with this minor exercise seems hypocritical to me. But what do I know?

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