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Don't Eliminate the Filibuster, Restore It

By       Message John Nichols     Permalink
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That's the way to understand filibuster reform.

No one is seriously discussing doing away with filibusters.

The talk is of making them real.

Senator Jeff Merkley, the Oregon Democrat who has long championed reform of the Senate's abusive and abused rules, speaks highly of filibusters. He just wants to make them real. "The public believes that filibustering senators have to hold the floor. Indeed, the public perceives the filibuster as an act of principled public courage and sacrifice. Let's make it so," says Merkley, who proposes to "require a specific number of Senators -- I suggest five for the first 24 hours, 10 for the second 24 hours, and 20 thereafter -- to be on the floor to sustain the filibuster. This would be required even during quorum calls. At any point, a member could call for a count of the senators on the floor who stand in opposition to the regular order, and if the count falls below the required level, the regular order prevails and a majority vote is held."

Reid has expressed sympathy for Merkley's modest proposal.

Of course, Republicans are screaming, as their ability to effectively define the direction of the Senate, despite their minority standing, is threatened. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is decrying even the most minor reform as a "naked power grab" that would "poison" relations in a Senate where relations are not exactly good.

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McConnell and his allies are even threatening to derail "fiscal cliff" negotiations if any move is made to renew the filibuster as it was historically employed.

But the frustration among members of the Democratic majority is such that some action now seems not just necessary but likely.

"We cannot allow the Senate to be dysfunctional by the use of filibusters," says Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who has emerged as a leading proponent of filibuster reform...

"We've had over 300 filibusters in the last six years -- it's unprecedented. What we're talking about is very basic -- you want to start a filibuster, you want to stop the business of the Senate, by goodness' sake, park your fanny on the floor of the Senate and speak. If you want to go to dinner and go home over the weekend, be prepared, the Senate is moving forward."

Forward, yes. But, also, backward -- to the days when senators who wanted to filibuster had every right to do so in public. But no right to block action with behind-the-scenes maneuvers and rank obstructionism.

For more Beltway battles, check out George Zornick's coverage of the fight for a stronger Securities and Exchange Commission. 

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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