Saturday, February 4, 2017

Senate must change filibuster rules

The filibuster rule can be traced back to Julius Caesar when the Roman Senate was required to finish business before sunset.

Cato the Younger blocked legislation Caesar wanted by talking until sunset.

Caesar then threw Cato in jail for that 'filibuster'.

The worthy goal of a parliamentary filibuster is to allow a member of the minority party to force a long debate on legislation he opposes.

A filibuster allows any minority party member to stand up and speak about any legislation until he runs out of steam.

Filibusters are not in the US Constitution.

They exist because of a Senate rule, and could be eliminated by a simple majority vote.

Filibusters were rarely used in the Senate when they required a Senator to be at his desk, and on his feet, talking without a break.

In 1917 a new filibuster "cloture" rule
(a rule to end a filibuster) was approved, requiring a two-thirds vote of those present to end a filibuster (later changed to three-fifths of the Senate, or 60 votes).

The new cloture rule in 1917 did not result in many filibusters, because any filibuster halted all other Senate business until it was over.

From 1917 to 1969 there were 58 filibusters:
   (an average of 1.1 per year over those 52 years).

But from 1970 through 2016 there were about 1,700 filibusters:
   (an average of 37.0 per year over those 46 years).

What changed in 1970?

In 1970, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield launched a "two-track system" that allowed the Senate Minority Leader to bypass a filibustered bill and move on to other Senate business.

The new bypass rule meant a filibustering Senator didn't have to talk all day.

Filibusters were used to force debate on a bill before 1970.

That was good.

Filibusters were used to prevent debate on a bill after 1970.

That is very bad.

Harry Reid, for example, got the Senate to ignore hundreds of bills sent from the House of Representatives in the last two-year session of Congress.

His Democrat minority in the Senate used filibuster rules to deliberately gridlock the entire Congress.

But ... Congress exists to make laws by majority vote -- not to be gridlocked  by a stubborn minority party in the Senate.

Gridlock encourages the President to make "temporary laws" using executive orders.

Obama used the Congressional gridlock to seize more power, always saying: 'If Congress fails to act, I will'.

Obama made "temporary laws" with his pen and phone
(executive orders).

This was a huge blow to the intent of our Constitution -- separation of power -- I believe Obama should have been impeached
(he would not have been convicted, but he should not have been allowed to set that precedent, without any punishment).

And now Trump is following Obama's precedent, and Democrats don't like it at all.

Trump is governing with executive orders.

And Obama's old executive orders are being overturned by Trump's new executive orders.

The Obvious Solution:
   Filibuster rule changes in 1970 must be reversed to return to the original good intent of a filibuster.

How to end Congressional gridlock by the minority party in the Senate:

One precedent:
     In 2013 Senate Democrats in the majority lowered the filibuster cloture rule from a three-fifths vote, to a majority vote, for all Presidential nominees under the level of a Supreme Court justice.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid imposed new cloture rules to prevent Republicans in the minority from using filibusters to block Obama's nominees.

That didn't make any friends with Republicans, but it worked.

Actions Needed Now:
   The US Constitution could be used as the basis to change the Senate filibuster rules to avoid gridlock.

Article I, Section 5 of the US Constitution allows each house of Congress to set its own rules.

In the Senate, one-third of the Senators are elected every two years.

That led to the tradition of calling the Senate a "continuing body".

As a "continuing body", Senate rules were allowed to continue unchanged with each new session of the Senate
(every two years).

That "continuing body" precedent should be ignored.

Senate rules should be reviewed and changed, if desired, every two years rather than doing nothing and operating on precedent
(the old rules).

Each new session of the Senate already disregards all pending motions at the end of the previous Congress.

Each new session of Congress should also disregard all prior Senate rules at the end of the previous Congress.

The Senate can make new rules with a simple majority vote.

Republicans control the Senate now.

They must reform the filibuster rules immediately.

The minority party Democrats in the Senate must no longer be allowed to stop the entire Congress from making new laws ... which encourages the President to bypass Congress to get his way with executive orders, too often used in a way that is NOT constitutional.

What is a dictator? 

A dictator is a leader able to make new "laws", bypassing the legislature and the courts.

With every administration, the US President and his Executive branch of the government seizes more power, and moves closer to a dictatorship.

Bush gave us secret surveillance of the American people.

Obama gave us "lawmaking" by executive order, bypassing Congress.

Senate filibuster rules currently allow the Senate minority party to gridlock the entire Congress -- new Senate rules, set by a majority vote, are desperately needed.

Will Republicans do this, or are they cowards?

Perhaps I am biased, having voted for only one Republican in my entire life, but I think the Republicans are cowards
(of course I can always hope they do the right thing).

Senate minority party filibusters should not be allowed to stop most of the work of the entire legislative branch of our government.