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Wednesday
Jan052011

Filibuster Reform Fight Unfolds in Senate

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With the Democrats’ majority in the Senate Wednesday dwindling from 58 seats to 53 as the 112th Congress kicked off, they wasted no time in embarking on an effort to change Senate rules to make it harder for the minority party to filibuster legislation.

“The United States Senate must solve problems, not create them,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a speech on the chamber’s floor.

“No one can deny that the filibuster has been used for purely political reasons, reasons far beyond those for which this protection was invented and intended.”

Reid, noting that the last session of Congress saw nearly as many filibusters as the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and half the 1970s combined, said the filibuster has been “used and abused gratuitously.”

“Many of these recent filibusters were terribly unproductive,” said Reid, citing that many bills that broke through the Senate’s 60-vote threshold ultimately passed overwhelmingly and sometimes unanimously.

Leading the push for filibuster reform is Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Harkin wants to amend Senate rules to allow a decreasing majority of senators to end debate on a bill.

As it stands now, Rule XXII requires that three-fifths of the chamber -- in other words, 60 members -- must back a bill in order to end debate and move to a final vote, so a group of minority senators can effectively stop a bill by voting against it and preventing it from passing the 60-vote hurdle, a move known as a modern-day filibuster.

Under Harkin’s proposal, if a bill does not get 60 votes to end debate, another vote could take place two days later, requiring 57 votes. If the bill still failed to get past that vote, then a third vote needing 54 votes could take place after two more days. Finally, a fourth vote, with only 51 votes needed, would take place after another two-day wait.

“275 filibusters in four years is not just a cold statistic. It represents the minority blocking measures sometimes -- not all the time -- but sometimes that enjoy broad support among the American people. In the last Congress, the filibuster was used to kill many bills that enjoyed majority and often bipartisan support,” Harkin said.

“This should not be a partisan issue,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said. “We know both sides have abused the rules. Now is the time to work together to fix them.”

But GOP leaders show no signs of going along with the Democrats’ efforts. The Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell Wednesday denounced the filibuster reform plans as “a bad idea.”

The Senate’s fight over filibuster reform is not set to take center stage until later this month, since lawmakers are set to recess later this week until Jan. 24. At that time, Reid may have figured out a way to work out a deal on reform that is palatable to Republicans -- or he may have decided to try to pass the reforms with a simple majority vote using the so-called “Constitutional option.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio