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
October 30, 2009; 4:32 PM ET
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