Force Them to Filibuster

Paul Krugman’s column, “Kennedy’s Big Day” (NYTimes July 11, 2008), says “Democrats failed by one vote to override a Republican filibuster” last month. He follows this by saying “Democratic leaders decided to play brinkmanship” by letting the doctors’ cuts stand, exposing Senators to “intense lobbying.”

Please note: If Democrats had insisted on a real filibuster last month, instead of giving in after failing to round up cloture votes beforehand, Republicans would have been forced to display their obstruction to Medicare financing in public on the floor of the Senate.

I remember when segregationist senators held up Senate business for 57 days in 1964, filibustering against the Civil Rights Act. The filibuster revealed to America the mindset of the obstructionists and paved the way for successful actual cloture and passage of the Act. The filibuster educated people, though not in the direction hoped-for by the segregationists.

A Times editorial last autumn, “In Search of a Congress” (September 21, 2007), called for real filibusters as a way for Congress to do “what it is supposed to do: debate profound issues like [the Iraq war] and take a stand.”

Despite that editorial, The Times failed in a recent editorial [“Republican Delay on AIDS” (July 7, 2008)] to castigate the Democratic leadership’s refusal to call the bluff of filibuster threats. Democrats did not insist on a real filibuster, which would have forced Republicans to argue in public on the floor of the Senate against funding to combat AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, displaying their obstructionism to the American people.

What is the reluctance of the Democratic majority to call the bluff of Republicans and force them to follow through on threatened filibusters? Is it cowardice, ineptness, or laziness? Rounding up cloture votes to forestall a filibuster is not the same as actually tackling a filibuster. It is ‘filibuster lite’ and the cloture vote is a virtual vote. As a result, Congress becomes ever more opaque and Americans become ever more suspicious of the legislative process.

Addendum: “Democrats Try to Break Grip of the Senate‚Äôs Dr. No” (NYTimes, 28 July 2008):

At least one senator knows how to use the rules! He’s a Republican focused on budget issues. His critics say he is obstructing the way the Senate usually works, which “is known as unanimous consent, an agreement among all parties to let a bill pass without a fight since full debate and votes on even the simplest matter can consume days.” He says, “I am not a go-along, get-along guy if I think it is the wrong way to go. … I am O.K. taking the consternation of my colleagues. I take my oath seriously.”

Wow! Imagine if there were one senator who was so intent on stopping the neo-con agenda! Imagine the effect of forcing the Senate to vote and debate!

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