Filibuster still rules after Senate Democrats wuss out again

Nice going, Harry!

While Republicans freak out over President Barack Obama’s newly aggressive stance on pushing needed reforms – either through the U.S. Congress or via executive action – U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) did much to pull the rug out from under Obama last week by timidly wussing out. Again.

This time, Reid caved in on changing filibuster rules with a half-hearted tweaking of those rules. The stale compromise – Democrats, under Reid’s Senate leadership, are good at weak compromises – promises to ensure continued congressional gridlock with a virtual blank check for the House Republican bloc to keep on blocking anything Obama and Democrats support.

Under the Reid-backed compromise – said to more efficiently speed up bill passage and appointment procedures – little will actually change. Republicans can still block any legislation they don’t like with a marvelously simple process. All that’s needed is to inform Democrats that approval calls for “yes” votes from 60 of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate. Democrats control 55 Senate seats – more than a simple majority, but not quite enough to reach the 60-vote level without some Republican support.

The watered-down compromise passed in the U.S. Senate on January 24. Since Reid again failed to push for a simple majority rule, the minority party in the U.S. Senate continues to rule. The 60-vote device has, in the recent past, blocked legislation running a gamut from tax increases for the very rich, to debt ceiling and budget bickering, to regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. That gridlock and inaction has caused Americans to give the last Congress, the 112th, some of the lowest approval ratings in history.

Now, we can look forward to more of the same.

Filibusters have a long tradition in American politics and have been used to stall or block legislation running from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s to civil rights laws in the 1960s. Time was when filibuster users could “talk to death” a measure and block a vote by simply holding the Senate floor for hours. Opponents could, and have, held the floor by reciting recipes, or reading from Shakespeare or telephone books.

The still-standing record filibuster time of 24 hours and 18 minutes is held by noted segregationist Strom Thurmond, during a 1964 debate on the Civil Rights Act when Thurmond was a South Carolina Democrat. He later switched to the GOP fold. So did most of the onetime Democratic “Solid South” after the Civil Rights bill was passed.

Now, no exhaustive efforts are needed. A phone call can inform the Senate leadership’s office that the 60-vote filibuster rule will be invoked, with no need for tiresome debate. It’s been done ad nauseum – leading to 73 votes to end filibusters, also called “cloture votes,” in the last Congress, after 91 and 112 times in each two-year Congress prior. Each total far exceeded cloture votes in any previous Congress and took place when Republicans each time held the Senate minority.

Majority rule? Forget about it.

And what do these far-away deliberations – by old men wearing suits – have to do with those of student age? Everything. What does and doesn’t get done in Congress affects everything from financial aid to education, student loans and immigration reform to the not-far-future America you’re going to inherit.

It also affects whether America will go further down the path, not to the “Socialist paradise” invoked by some, but to an oligarchy of complete corporate control of government for the benefit of guess who.

Pay attention. You still have some choices left. But they won’t last if Republican rear-guard policies of “bless the rich and screw everyone else” prevail through congressional chicanery.

A faint glimmer of a hopeful sign came this week when Senate Republicans agreed in principle to a less-rigid stance on immigration reform that could offer a long-delayed “path to citizenship” for undocumented Americans and their children. It’s another compromise, but at least a start.

Maybe the fact that Latinos voted 3:1 against Republicans in 2012 had something to do with that shift.

The GOP may yet get a clue someday. Maybe in your lifetime. But not likely in mine.

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J. Sebastian Sinisi


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