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On Protecting Senate Minority, Reid Shows Honor GOP Lacked

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When I spoke with incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in his office last week, perhaps the thing he was most adamant about was restoring the Senate's integrity and ruling out the kind of mad, power-grabs attempted by the Republicans in the last Congress. "I will not treat them like they treated me," Reid said firmly, when discussing the boorish behavior of the Republican leadership in the 109th Congress. Specifically, Reid talked about Majority Leader Bill Frist's disgusting threats last year to kill the filibuster -- the Senate's only true measure of procedural control for the minority party -- and declared that, despite the tables now being turned, he would have immediately restored the filibuster in January had the Republican's plan gone through in 2005. "I stated on the Senate floor that if I became Majority Leader and they passed that, I would rescind it," said Reid last week. "It is something that was negative to our country. I would never, ever do that because it was so anti-Senate and it was so anti-American." A filibuster allows any Senator to prevent a full vote by extending debate on an issue or a presidential appointee indefinitely and requires a supermajority of 60 votes to "break" the filibuster and force a vote. The ability of three-fifths of the Senators to end such debate -- two-thirds, in the case of a motion to change Senate rules -- is codified in the Standing Rules of the Senate, Rule 22, also known as "Precedence of Motions." In 2005, the Republican majority, in an effort to push through George W. Bush's far right-wing judicial nominees, sought to get rid of the filibuster via the "nuclear option," which would have solidified absolute, one-party rule and allowed all of Bush's nominees to go through with essentially only Republican approval -- thus removing any reason for the minority party to even show up in the Senate chamber. But unlike an ideologically-driven hack like Frist, Harry Reid is a Senate purist who believes in the way the Senate has always run and the wisdom of its traditions, even if some of those will benefit the Republican minority over the next few years. "One of our finest accomplishments over the last 2 years was something that the Senate chose not to do," said Reid from the Senate floor on Friday. "In May 2005, the Senate turned aside the so-called nuclear option and decided to preserve the rules of the Senate which allow for extended debate on judicial nominations. The nuclear option would have forced a change in this venerable Senate rule by the brute force of a simple majority vote." "The campaign to rewrite Senate rules was misguided from the start. It was a raw abuse of power fueled by a misreading of history. The Senate came dangerously close to adopting this plan," said Reid. Frist's threat of ending the filibuster entirely was eliminated when the "Gang of 14," seven Democratic and seven Republican Senators, agreed on letting a few of Bush's nominees through in return for allowing the filibuster procedure to remain and thus permitting Democrats to block other Bush nominees. Here's more from Reid, who said that "As majority leader, I intend to run the Senate with respect for the rules and for the minority rights the rules protect."
"Had the nuclear option prevailed, it is almost certain that other valuable Senate traditions would soon have fallen to political expediency, raw power, simple majority vote, and we would have become another House of Representatives. Confirmation of a handful of controversial court of appeals nominees was a small price to pay for preserving the sanctity of the Senate rules for future generations. "The Senate was not established to be efficient. Sometimes the rules get in the way of efficiency. The Senate was established to make sure that minorities are protected. Majorities can always protect themselves, but minorities cannot. That is what the Senate is all about. For more than 200 years, the rules of the Senate have protected the American people, and rightfully so."
Ironically, because so many Democratic Senators represent entire states with large populations -- New York, California and Illinois spring to mind -- the 44 Senate Democrats actually spoke for a larger number of the American people than did their 55 Republican counterparts in the last Congress. This makes GOP attempts to silence their voices on critical judicial nominees even more despicable than the debasement of honored legislative procedure threatened by their party. And, assuming Tim Johnson (D-SD) recovers from his health problems and returns to the Senate, the new Republican minority can at least show up for work on January 4 knowing that, while Reid may fight them along partisan lines on some issues, he won't stoop to their tactics of altering the Senate's foundation to suit his current agenda. "The need to muster 60 votes in order to terminate Senate debate naturally frustrates the majority and oftentimes the minority," said Reid on the final day of the 109th Congress. "I am sure it will frustrate me when I assume the office of majority leader in a few weeks. But I recognize this requirement is a tool that serves the long-term interest of the Senate, the American people and our country." You can read more from Bob at
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Bob Geiger is a writer, activist and Democratic operative in Westchester County, NY.
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