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Tester, Baucus obstruct Senate reform

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 08:25:31 AM MST

Holy smokes! According to this Hill article, "Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate are pushing for filibuster reform at the start of the new Congress next year."

Great, right? Fantastic! What I've been calling for...for ages! Let's get it started -

What's that? There are Democrats that oppose this? "Five Senate Democrats" said they wouldn't support filibuster reform, and "another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change"? What? How's that? It must be what Steve Benen said, that "most of the support" for filibuster reform "comes from newer members of the chamber, but it's the Dems who've been around for a while...who are most inclined to keep things the way they are, regardless of the consequences to the institution or the country, right?

It's a reminder that no one wants to give up a weapon they might want to use themselves someday. Republicans are abusing procedural rules now to undermine a progressive agenda, and some Dems are no doubt thinking they'll be able to abuse those same rules down the road.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) told The Hill, "I think we should retain the same policies that we have instead of lowering it.... I think it has been working."

I don't know what Senate Akaka has been watching, but it doesn't sound like this one.

With the Senate Democratic majority due to shrink, and Republicans becoming more hysterically conservative, these anti-reform Dems are inviting a disaster -- a government incapable of passing legislation.

So when we hear Max Baucus opposes filibuster reform, we shouldn't be surprised. After all, as a "moderate," he's one of the Senators you have to custom-tailor a bill for in order to avoid a filibuster. Pork! Pork! Pork! For Montana! And an effective roadblock to pass any law that would protect or benefit ordinary Americans over Baucus' constituents. Like WellPoint, say. Or maybe, as former Senator Fritz Hollings claims, the filibuster allows Senators to do more fundraising. Ending the filibuster would crimp the fundraising of the Baucuses of the Senate.

But not someone like Tester, right? Not a freshman Senator elected on a wave of populist progressive fervor. Whose supporters slogged in the rain to ensure he represented Montana as a reformer in the US Senate? That he do his best to help end the bitter partisanship that marred Congress in recent years? That he work for the people of the state, and not the varied deep-pocketed interests that have held the Senate - and the country - hostage?


Sen. Jon Tester, a freshman Democrat from Montana, disagrees with some of his classmates from more liberal states.

"I think the bigger problem is getting people to work together," he said. "It's been 60 for a long, long time. I think we need to look to ourselves more than changing the rules."

Seriously, I'm flabbergasted.


I mean, where do you start with this? Yes, the filibuster has been in effect for a long time. But its use for standard legislation is a new and radical change:

But even a cursory glance at the proceedings of the 110th Senate shows something is clearly different this time. Republican leaders are evoking filibusters at a torrid pace, seemingly intent on blocking nearly every piece of legislation that comes across their desks, even measures with wide Republican support.

During the Legislature's first session, which ended in January, the majority was compelled to invoke 78 cloture votes, an average of more than one a week. And things seem to be repeating themselves in the second session, with 44 cloture motions as of June 13, for a total of 116 so far in the 110th Congress.

By contrast, the previous record was 61 cloture votes during the entire 107th Congress of 2001-2002. Republicans are on track to triple that total by the time the second session closes next year.

Compare that to earlier sessions of Congress. Between 1917 and 1963, "the procedure was invoked only five times."

A quick glance at the history of the filibuster shows that, in its original inception, it wasn't intended to block votes on legislation, but to foster debate. Senators had to actually debate on the floor to delay a vote on a bill until 1975, when the "virtual" filibuster was allowed. Now, all you need to do is announce you're filibustering, and - voila! - 60 votes are required.

Rachel Maddow:

Republicans now have a defacto standing filibuster on practically everything. They've made so that passing anything in the Senate requires sixty votes, a super majority every time. This situation has never existed before. This was not the situation in any previous Congress ever. Really. I know the beltway reporting makes it seem like sixty is normal. This is the way it's always been. Democrats did it too when they were in the minority.

It is not true. This really has never happened before in the history of the U.S. Senate....

Under current Senate filibuster rules, Montana's Mike Mansfield couldn't have forced Strom Thurmond to continue debate indefinitely on the Civil Rights Act of 1957, thus ensuring its passage after a 24-hour marathon speech by the segregationist.

And Michael Tomasky reminds us that requiring a supramajority on all votes was distinctly not what our nation's constitutional architects envisioned for a functioning national legislature. "[The Senate] was never supposed to prevent action when clear majorities backed something,
writes Tomasky, "as frequently happens today." And he quotes James Madison, "opposing supramajority requirments in all but a few cases (treaty approval, ouster of members)":

In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority.

So, no, Senator Tester, this is decidedly not how the Senate has historically gone about its business, and the current filibuster has not been around a long time.

As for "getting people to work together..." I'm not sure what Tester means by that. Getting Republicans to support Democratic legislation? Um...you'd have thought even Senator Tester's short-lived experience in the US Senate would show him the folly of that kind of thinking. This isn't the Montana legislature of a decade ago, Senator Tester.

Today's Republicans are deliberately sabotaging legislation that would ameliorate the nation's economic woes with an eye on worsening the economy for the 2012 elections. Today's Republicans are deliberately sabotaging any climate change legislation, wooing the money and support of energy conglomerations and paying lip service to AM-radio-fueled Beckian paranoia. These are not people you can work with, Senator Tester.

This is not why we elected you US Senator for the state of Montana.

Jay Stevens :: Tester, Baucus obstruct Senate reform
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Following a cool, wet spring... (0.00 / 0)
...You're on fire Jay!

Thanks so much Jay for yet another excellent post that puts the history of the filibuster in proper context and highlights the disappointing and baffling stance of Montana's senators.  

I guess the best we can do in Montana is a Blue Dog (0.00 / 0)
The choice in 2012 will be between a Blue Dog, who votes the right way when it doesn't inconvenience big corporations, and some raving right-wing lunatic.

No wonder there's not much enthusiasm among Democrats.

The more I hear and see about Tester, (0.00 / 0)
the more I'm convinced his push to woo the progressive crowd was just a bunch of pandering. He knew he was going to need a few more thousand votes to get over the hump, so he poured it on.

I think we will be witnessing a lot more of Tester sliding to the right in the years to come. Sad. So sad.

I think that "work together" has become code for ignoring the voices of the rabid and progressive left, and figuring out how to move to the center to compete with his republican counterparts for campaign dollars.

To wit: The Two Step and The Back Stab. Not to mention The Misguided Giveaway.

Don't think we'll be seeing any more Pearl Jam concerts in his future.

Thanks for pointing this out, Jay (0.00 / 0)
And it should also be noted that Max Baucus and Jon Tester voted with those other great Democrats, Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson, to withhold funding in the Justice Department suit against Arizona's immigration law.  Just five Democrats crossed the aisle to support this Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) amendment to the unemployment extension bill.

The Arizona immigration law that goes into affect tomorrow sucks.  Here's a New Yorker column that points out the absurdity of the law:


I gave up on Baucus years ago.  Please, Jon, give me some reasons to continue believing in you.

Make that: " ... goes into effect ... " (0.00 / 0)
... not "goes into affect."  I've always had a problem with that one.

[ Parent ]
i agree that jay certainly is too hot to touch these days matt..... (0.00 / 0)

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Purely Hypothetical, of course, but - The best candidate for the Republicans for US Senate is:
Corey Stapleton
Dennis Rehberg
Marc Racicot
Champ Edmunds
Steve Daines
Harris Himes
Kreyton Kerns


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