Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New filibuster rules needed

Today the Republicans in the U.S. Senate managed to filibuster President Obama’s nominee for the No. 2 post at the U.S. Department of Interior. The nominee, David Hayes, previously served in the Clinton administration and is well qualified for the post. There is nothing controversial about him whatsoever. And yet, Republicans voted in lockstep to filibuster Hayes’ nomination because some Western state Republicans are upset with the Obama administration’s decision to cancel some oil and gas leases in Western states.
First off, this nonsense has got to stop. The filibuster was once a weapon of last resort for the minority party that would be trotted out only on very rare occasions. But in recent years, it has become common place to the point that every single vote in the Senate now has to be passed with a super-majority of 60 votes.
This just isn’t right. In fact, it is completely upside down. Let’s look at the vote on the Hayes nomination. It was 57 to 39 - thus Democrats were three votes short of breaking the filibuster - Ted Kennedy is out sick, John Kerry was attending a U.S. soldier’s funeral, and Al Franken is being blocked by sore loser Republicans in Minnesota.
But what about this 39 votes on the Republican side?!? They couldn’t come up with 41 votes in opposition? And yet they still succeeded in blocking the nomination?? How is that fair?
At a bare minimum the rules for filibusters should be changed to put the onus on the minority party to come up with 41 votes to support the filibuster, rather than always forcing the majority to line up 60 votes to knock it down. If the minority party can’t muster 41 votes on a cloture rule, the filibuster should be declared void and the nomination should immediately go to a full up-or-down vote. End of story.
It is simply unfair and undemocratic to do it any other way.

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