Obama Embraces Reid's Proposed Filibuster Changes

Wednesday, 28 Nov 2012 02:10 PM

By Stephen Feller

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The White House announced on Wednesday that it supports Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s proposal to change the way filibusters can be used to slow the progress of legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Throwing its weight fully behind Reid’s effort is a shift from how the Obama administration reacted in 2011 when Reid attempted the rules change, and is an about face by President Barack Obama from his thoughts on a similar Republican proposal in 2005.

"Over the past few years important pieces of legislation like the DREAM Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the American Jobs Act weren't even allowed to be debated, and judicial nominations and key members of the administration are routinely forced to wait months for an up-or-down vote," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to The Huffington Post.

"The American people deserve a United States Senate that puts them first, instead of partisan delay."

Reid’s proposal is to prevent senators from delaying the opening of debate on legislation - filibusters are meant to prolong debate, not keep the Senate from considering bills - and to require senators who use the filibuster to remain on the chamber floor and speak at the podium for the duration of the delay the cause.

Current rules, adopted by the Senate in 1975, allow senators to simply announce their intent to filibuster. That announcement is treated the same as actually delaying a vote by speaking about the legislation or reading historical documents to fill time, as then-Sen. Strom Thurmond did during a 24-hour filibuster in 1957.

Reid has proposed to use the Constitutional option, nicknamed the “nuclear option,” because it would only require 51 votes to pass at the start of the next Congress in January. Democrats added two seats to their majority in the 2012 election, so the party’s 55 votes would guarantee the rule change of passing.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Politico that the rules change would be considered “such an abuse of power . . . It will shut down the Senate.”

“I think the backlash will be severe,” said Republican Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn R-Okla. “If you take away minority rights, which is what you’re doing because you’re an ineffective leader, you’ll destroy the place. And if you destroy the place, we’ll do what we have to do to fight back.”

The president’s outright support for Reid to change the rules is different than in 2011 when he mentioned changing the filibuster in his State of the Union address but did not support any of the proposals to do so.

In 2005, when Republicans proposed using the same method to pass similar changes in order to prevent Democratic stalling of Bush administration judicial nominations, Reid strongly objected to the concept.

"Some in this chamber want to throw out 214 years of Senate history in the quest for absolute power,” Reid said at the time. “They think they're wiser than our Founding Fathers. I doubt that's true."

Obama, a senator at the time, said the changes would result in “majoritarian absolute power... [which] is not what our Founders intended,” and felt it would "change the character of the Senate forever," according to Investor’s Business Daily.

In today’s announcement, Obama said that Americans “want to see progress, not partisan delay games.”

The Washington Examiner reports that Republicans in the current Congress have used the filibuster 300 times to kill Democratic legislation, which Obama and Reid both have said is why they can’t get anything done.


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