The Filibuster Flim Flam

The U.S. Senate has become the graveyard of Congress! Dozens of bills
passed by the House of Representatives-to improve the health, safety and
economic well-being of Americans-are locked up in the Senate month
after month.

This was not always the case. In the sixties and seventies, legislation
affecting consumers, workers and the environment often started in the
Senate and was sent to the House in the hope that that body would not
weaken or defeat these bills.

Committee chairs like Senators Warren Magnuson, Gaylord Nelson, and
Walter Mondale would move legislation after great public hearings open
to the citizenry. Auto safety, product safety, meat and poultry
inspection, gas pipeline safety in the late sixties, followed by the
sweeping air and water pollution control bills in the early seventies,
were examples of Senatorial initiatives.

Today, the Senate lies paralyzed even as it is controlled by 59
Democrats-usually enough for comfortable passage of legislation sought
by a majority party that also controls the presidency.

A combination of a few reactionary Democratic Senators, a unified
pro-corporate Republican opposition, anti-democratic Senate rules and
the decades-long weakening of citizen and trade union groups have
combined to produce a constipated Senate.

The usually mild House Democratic Caucus Chairman, John Larson (CT)
showed his irritation recently when he said that people are tired of the
House passing legislation that stalls in the Senate.

Some of the bills passed by the House include the financial reform bill
regarding Wall Street's abuses, the omnibus energy bill, a long overdue
adjustment of Postal Service pension payments, vision care for children,
a job security act for wounded veterans, a paycheck fairness bill, an
elder abuse victims bill, a water use efficiency and conservation
research bill, an act to prohibit the importation of certain low-level
radioactive waste into the U.S., an imposition of additional taxes on
executive bonuses awarded by financial companies under bailout
salvation, a mortgage reform and anti-predatory lending bill, food
safety legislation, stronger enforcement authority for the Securities
and Exchange Commission (SEC), and a student aid and fiscal
responsibility bill.

These are some of the 290 bills already passed in the House-many of them
minor to be sure-that House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (Dem. CA.) has noted.

Granted the major House bills are not as strong as some citizen groups
would like, which is why they try to get them strengthened in the
Senate. Fat chance, as long as Rule 22-the notorious filibuster
mechanism-exists, and as long as the Senators remain marinated in
corporate campaign cash and prospective jobs for them or their
The filibuster is now virtual, unlike the traditional filibuster where
its practitioners would have to go on the Senate floor for hours
straining their bladders and the patience of the public.

Presently, all Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (Rep. KY) has to
do is merely notify Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid (Dem. NV) of the
intent to extend debate and, voila, a minority of forty-one Senators
defeats the majority rule of fifty-nine Senators.

So Senator Reid bewails that: "We had to file cloture some seventy times
last year, seventy times. That's remarkably bad. Let's change that."

So why don't the Democrats "change that?" In 1975, Vice President Nelson
Rockefeller, in his role as president of the Senate, ruled that
fifty-one Senators could amend Senate rules. Senator Tom Udall has a
resolution to do just that-predictably languishing in the Senate without
even a hearing.

Moreover, Senator Tom Harkin proposed a resolution that would require a
series of votes to cut off a filibuster. The first stage would need
sixty votes, the second would need fifty-seven, then fifty-four and
finally a simple majority over a period of weeks. That proposal is going

Obviously, the Democrats could end the filibuster with a majority vote
but choose not to because they may wish to use this tool of obstruction
should they be in the minority. In fact, Harry Reid has ruled out any
filibuster reform. Well then, why not end the "virtual" filibuster and
make the Republicans hit the floor with round-the-clock debate televised
around the nation. People are waiting and suffering from
corporate-desired inaction.

Chicago lawyer and scholar, Thomas Geoghegan wrote an open letter to
Senator Reid (See it at:
urging that he make the Republicans actually filibuster. Either make
them stall the Senate on a minor bill to generate public ire or generate
public outrage by making them filibuster a popular bill aimed at
curbing corporate crime, waste and abuse or one that would save people
money or their health.

Still, no response, other than debilitating talk by the Democrats about
seeking bi-partisan support for their bills.

Face it-the Senate is breaking an already broken Congress into little
pieces which are then sold for a mess of pottage. Organize Congress
Watch Locals in every state, folks, for nobody will save you but

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