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Filibustering a Directive from the People of America

By       Message michael payne     Permalink
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The interests of the American people no longer have significant meaning in the U.S. Senate. The continued use of the archaic Senate filibuster rule has now reached such heights that this legislative body of our government can no longer function as our founders intended. The business of governing our nation has been placed on an indefinite hold as the threat of a filibuster dominates and corrupts the entire process.

The directive to which I refer is none other than the current legislation on health care reform before the Senate which the majority of Americans fully support. This critical issue of our time is in danger of collapsing because the Democrats cannot come up with the 60 votes that it takes to invoke cloture and prevent a filibuster. Democrats and their entire agenda are completely paralyzed by their fear of a filibuster.

It is true that the Democrats won the congressional elections in 2006 and in 2008, together with the presidential election. So now they have total control of the House, the Senate and the White House, right? Wrong, they have a majority in both houses and a president in power but the combination of the Congress and the president has been unable to overcome the threat of the dreaded filibuster.

Briefly, here's how the filibuster and cloture process works. The Republicans have made it crystal clear that they intend to defeat the upcoming Senate legislation on health care reform. They can initiate the filibuster and stop the legislation if there are at least 41 senators who vote for it. To prevent a filibuster, there must be 3/5, or 60, of senators who vote for cloture.

That's the situation currently in the Senate whereby Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders are frantically trying to figure out a way to get those 60 votes. But so far they cannot find the votes even though they have a majority of 60 senators, which includes two independents who caucus with them. There is a small group of conservative Democrats, five or six, who are opposing the public option that Harry Reid wants to include and they are threatening the chances for reform to be enacted.

The easy way out of this dilemma is for that majority of 60 senators to vote for cloture even if some are not for it. That would prevent the filibuster. Then when it comes to a floor vote, they can vote against it for their particular reasons. While it seems almost incomprehensible, it appears nearly certain that one or more of this small group of dissenting senators will go against the wishes of their Democratic Party and the majority of Americans and support a filibuster.

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In fact that has already happened as the well-known turncoat, Joe Liebermann, has threatened to withhold support for any bill that includes a public option and says he is prepared to vote with the Republicans on a filibuster. If he follows through with this threat and this legislation is defeated, then here is what the Democratic Senate leadership should do. Immediately relieve him of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, remove him from his membership on the Armed Services and Small Business Committees, and bar him from taking part in the Democratic caucus and any associated meetings. If he is so vile that he would stab his party and the American people in the back by siding with the GOP, then he must be totally ostracized for he will be of no value as a senator. If that sounds mean and spiteful, then so be it for he will deserve it.

Just how all this can be worked out to get effective health care reform, including a public option, is uncertain given the traitorous stance of the rogue Democratic senators. While I am not an expert on the subject, the reconciliation process may be a viable way to get it done. The problem seems to be that this rarely used procedure is intended for budget resolutions. There are many who say that if the entire reform plan is put through this process, then there are numerous ways that important provisions not relating to budget matters can be stripped out; rendering it useless.

If that is the case I pose this question for those experts who know the Senate legislation rules. Is it possible that the reform legislation could be broken into two separate elements? The main bill going through the normal process could contain important provisions that would bring an end to such practices as indiscriminate cancellation of policies or denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions. That legislation should have a good chance to escape a filibuster because it would not include the public option that conservative Democrats are against. And how could Lieberman and Olympia Snowe be against something so important for the American people?

Then the second part of this process could use the reconciliation procedure to enact legislation solely for the public option since it involves budget matters. It would not be subject to the previous scenario that would result in stripping other provisions. Under the reconciliation rules only 51 affirmative votes would be required and the filibuster would not be in play. Obviously this process is more complicated than my limited interpretation here.

If what I am suggesting is not a new idea, that's fine. What I'm trying to do is spread the word to generate new alternative ways to get this legislation enacted. We have to find a way to get this done for America and beat back the dissenters, for it is long overdue and we cannot fail again.

It would seem that this two-part process might be the way to solve this problem but I will have to leave that to the experts in and out of Congress. Anyone out there think that this might work or is it flawed thinking?

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Michael Payne is an independent, progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues. He is a featured writer on Opednews and Nation of Change and his articles have appeared on many other websites (more...)

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