Secret holds and silent filibusters targets of reform

opinions

January 7, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Senate Democrats have proposed significant reform of Senate rules that can be adopted by majority vote. Here are some of the proposals:
— Eliminate the filibuster on motions to proceed, but provide for a two-hour debate on such a motion. The effect would be to allow such a motion to be adopted by a ma-jority vote rather than requiring 60 votes, as now can be done.
— Eliminates secret holds. Today any senator can prevent action on any piece of legislation without identifying himself in public or giving any reason for the hold. Secret holds have been used to prevent consideration of a presidential appointment. Holds also allow one senator to act on behalf of another senator without naming the senator who has the objection. Eliminating these anti-democratic practices would do much to make the Senate a more civilized place.
— Establish the right of senators in the majority or the minority to offer amendments that are germane to the legislation under consideration. In current practice, senators in the minority have been forced to resort to the filibuster to halt consideration of a bill because they had been denied the right to offer amendments to it.
— Require a “talking filibuster,” meaning that those who wish to delay a vote on final passage of a bill must continue debate as long as the bill is the pending business. Currently, senate rules determine that a bill is dead if the minority declares a filibuster and those in favor of it cannot find 60 votes.
The 60-vote filibuster has denied a majority of the senate the right to pass legislation many times in recent years.

DEMOCRATS IN favor of these changes could have passed them with ease any time in the past two years and are rightly criticized for waiting until now to offer them. That said, most of us would agree that the flaws they are intended to remedy should never have been allowed to develop and cry out for repair.
How can anyone justify giving a single senator the right to stop action of the 100-member Senate? Why on earth is it a good idea to require a super-majority to do the nation’s business? The filibuster denies the right of the majority to act. When used to extend debate to make certain all are heard, it can be justified. But to give the minority the right to stop action altogether is clearly undemocratic.
The same logic applied to the election of senators and representatives would give more votes to one set of voters than to another. One vote, say, for men; a vote and a half for women. While such an ar-rangement could well lead to a more effective Congress, it most probably would not pass Supreme Court muster.
Drop Sen. Pat Roberts and Sen. Jerry Moran a note and tell them to swallow their partisanship and vote yes for a more effective, more democratic Senate — if, that is, these sound suggestions actually come to a vote under current rules.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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