Harkin may introduce bill to end filibuster
by desmoinesdem, Sat Dec 12, 2009 at 02:20:03 PM EST
The Burlington (IA) Hawk Eye reports that Senator Tom Harkin may reintroduce a bill to end the filibuster:
Nearly 15 years ago, the Iowa senator first introduced legislation that would end the Senate rule of filibuster, or endlessly debating a bill until its ultimate demise. The bill ultimately failed to pass the Senate by a vote of 76-19.
Given what he sees as the abuse of power by a couple members of his own party whom he said are threatening to join the minority party if their every demand is not met, Harkin is considering reintroducing the legislation.
"I think, if anything, this health care debate is showing the dangers of unlimited filibuster," Harkin said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. "I think there's a reason for slowing things down ... and getting the public aware of what's happening and maybe even to change public sentiment, but not to just absolutely stop something."
Harkin noted with interest that his original legislation was cosponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who has been threatening to filibuster the legislation.
Harkin's idea would preserve means for senators to slow down debate on a bill without imposing a 60-vote threshold for all bills in the Senate:
"Today, in the age of instant news and Internet and rapid travel -- you can get from anywhere to here within a day or a few hours -- the initial reasons for the filibuster kind of fall by the wayside, and now it's got into an abusive situation," Harkin said.
He and the constitutional scholars agree that the intention was never to hold up legislation entirely.
To keep the spirit of slowing down legislation, though, Harkin's proposal back in 1995 would have kept the 60-vote rule for the first vote but lessening the number required in subsequent votes.
He said for instance if 60 senators could not agree to end debate, it would carry on for another week or so and then the number of votes required to end debate would drop by three. Harkin said it would carry on this way until it reached a simple majority of 51 votes.
"You could hold something up for maybe a month, but then, finally you'd come down to 51 votes and a majority would be able to pass," Harkin said. "I may revive that. I pushed it very hard at one time and then things kind of got a little better."
This approach makes a lot of sense, although it will be an uphill battle to get a critical mass of senators to agree to change the rules.
Not long ago Ezra Klein publicized a memo from December 1964, which suggests that the recent election improved chances for Medicare to pass the Senate (by approximately 55 to 45). There was no expectation that Medicare couldn't pass without a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
One way or another, the current abuse of the filibuster in the Senate needs to end. The Constitution does not contain any supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation to pass the Senate.