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Joe Lieberman in 1994: 'The abuse of the filibuster [is] bipartisan and so its demise should be bipartisan as well'


This is a helluva catch by Sam Stein:

"[People] are fed up -- frustrated and fed up and angry about the way in which our government does not work, about the way in which we come down here and get into a lot of political games and seem to -- partisan tugs of war and forget why we're here, which is to serve the American people. And I think the filibuster has become not only in reality an obstacle to accomplishment here, but it also a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today."

"But I do want to say that the Republicans were not the only perpetrators of filibuster gridlock, there were occasions when Democrats did it as well. And the long and the short of it is that the abuse of the filibuster was bipartisan and so its demise should be bipartisan as well."

"The whole process of individual senators being able to hold up legislation, which in a sense is an extension of the filibuster because the hold has been understood in one way to be a threat to filibuster -- it's just unfair."

The speaker there is Sen. Joe Lieberman. The quote is from 1994. And Lieberman's solution was pretty clever. As Stein explains it, "The Senate would still need 60 votes on the first motion to end debate, (the cloture vote). But the next motion would require just 57 votes, the third motion 54 votes, and the fourth and final effort would need just 51 votes -- a simple majority. In all, roughly 25 days would elapse between the first and fourth vote." In that way, the filibuster would still extend debate and ensure that minority viewpoints were heard. But it would no longer mean that minority viewpoints could obstruct.

This year, of course, Lieberman is saying that he's considering filibustering health-care reform. It's tempting to just make this about Lieberman, but it isn't, really. A lot of young senators consider the filibuster somewhat insane. Many of them come from the House, where action is easier, or they led state legislatures, where the filibuster didn't exist. Others were governors or leaders in the private sector. They enter the Senate and are appalled that the place is paralyzed by bad-faith proceduralism.

But over time, they lose that perspective. They serve in the minority for a while and realize they like the filibuster. They find themselves serving as a crucial vote on some issue or another and find they like the power. They spend a lot of time with older senators and decide they like the chamber's institutions. And they either drop the fight or, as in Lieberman's case, join the other side.

Photo credit: Susan Walsh/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  October 30, 2009; 4:32 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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*And Lieberman's solution was pretty clever.*

I hate to give credit to Lieberman, but that *is* pretty clever: it preserves the intent of the filibuster by extending debate and slowing down the process, while at the same time preventing its use as an obstructionary tactic. It even seems like it's preserving the idea of debate for what it is supposed to be used for-- to make a case to the majority to convince them to come to your side.

In that sense, the senate minority acts like the House of Lords, capable of delaying legislation but not killing it. And that's how the minority in the senate *should* act. After all, they're the minority. They get to delay, have influence, and make deals, but not dictate the agenda. If they want to do that, then they have to win elections like everyone else.

Posted by: constans | October 30, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Did you consider the idea just as clever when the democrats were the minority party?

But yeah- this is exactly the solution that I have wanted for a long time. The filibuster is a perfect tool to stop a majority party from ramming through legislation before people know whats in it or have a full knowledge of the consequences. A minority party should be able to delay and continue debate and try and work up the voters so that there can be suitable reprocussions for bad laws being passed. To me the solution is to pass a rulechange to go in effect in 6 years. Both parties would have time to try and win control by then and neither side would hvae an advantage. Of course that leaves 6 years of gridlock but its still better than leaving the current system to run indefinitely.

Posted by: spotatl | October 30, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I read up on cloture today, and discovered to my horror that the original Senate rule (established some years after the Constitution was ratified) required the vote of 2/3 of Senators present and voting. The Dems changed that in 1975 when they had 60 Senators, so that the requirement now is for 3/5 of members serving (so always 60 if there are no vacant seats).

I'm no fan of Lieberman, but I also like his 1994 proposal. Unfortunately, they left in place the 2/3 vote requirement to cut off debate over changes to Senate rules, so it will probably never happen.

Posted by: ctnickel | October 30, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

*they left in place the 2/3 vote requirement to cut off debate over changes to Senate rules, so it will probably never happen.*

At the start of a new Congressional session, the majority party drafts the set of rules for the session on a pure majority vote.

The Republicans would have been free to adopt Lieberman's proposal at the start of the new Congress in 1995 with a simple majority, but they didn't go for it.

In an earlier thread, however, it was mentioned that even without the filibuster, there are a number of different procedural rules or simply traditions that Senators adhere in order to stymie legislation and nominees simply because "that's the way we do things" and if you want to get on the "good side" of your colleagues, you'll "do things" they way they do.

Posted by: constans | October 30, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

"Did you consider the idea just as clever when the democrats were the minority party?"

Posted by: rmgregory | October 30, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

*Did you consider the idea just as clever when the democrats were the minority party?*

Well, Lieberman was in the majority party when he came up with the idea.

I did not hear the Republicans (or Lieberman) support that idea when the Republicans were in charge (Trent Lott and his "nuclear option" idea was so much less elegant in comparison), but I think I would have regarded the idea as "clever" regardless of whether I supported it or not.

Posted by: constans | October 30, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

"At the start of a new Congressional session, the majority party drafts the set of rules for the session on a pure majority vote."

That only applies in the House. The Senate considers itself a permanent body with a rotating membership, so its rules continue from one Congress to the next without a revote each time.

Posted by: WoodbridgeVa1 | October 30, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with Hartford being a major hub for health insurance corporations. It's pretty obvious, just listening to him, that he suffers from severe narcissistic personality disorder. He's always been the biggest narcissist in the Senate -- and, when you consider the composition of the Senate, that's saying a lot. This is not about principle, as Lieberman always asserts, it's about Sanctimonious Joe staging another tantrum because no one is paying attention to him. Come to think of it, it's always about Sanctimonious Joe. I'd like him to return 20 years of income taxes I and millions of other Americans have paid to provide him with World Class Senatorial Health Care since 1989. Many of the 60 million Americans without health care in this country have been paying taxes to subsidize Joe Lieberman and the Lieberman family's health care. His "honor" and his "ethics" prevent him from allowing those millions of Americans the very benefits he enjoys. It's just more sanctimony and narcissism.

Posted by: osullivanc1 | October 30, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

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