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Posted at 11:04 AM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Lamar Alexander: Confused or wily?

By Greg Sargent

I noted this morning that Lamar Alexander's argument against filibuster reform is deeply twisted, but it's really worth pondering his argument at more length. According to The New York Times, Alexander is giving a speech this morning in which he'll say the following:

"Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing Democrats want to do is cut off the right of the people they elected to make their voices heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate."

Of course, this is entirely off point, and has nothing to do with what's actually being proposed, as Steve Benen points out:

Putting aside the misguided take on public opinion -- does Alexander really think voters are fans of Senate obstructionist tactics? -- there are no proposals under consideration that would silence Senate voices. Hell, the notion of eliminating the filibuster and allowing the Senate to operate by majority rule isn't even on the table.

The main proposal being pushed by reform-minded Democrats has three main provisions: (1) prohibiting filibusters on motions to proceed, which prevent senators from even having a debate; (2) ending the practice of secret holds; and (3) forcing those filibustering legislation to actually stand on the floor and talk endlessly.

If Lamar Alexander believes implementing these changes "cut off" Senate members and prevent "their voices" from being heard, he's deeply confused about the nature of the debate.

Yep. Confused, or perhaps wily. The interesting question here is this: Why exactly is it that Senator Alexander feels free to air a response that's pure fiction? The Times story, which is otherwise very good, doesn't print any kind of Dem response to Alexander's nonsense. There is an explanation of what the reform proposals actually are in the story, but no effort was made to fact-check Alexander's claims or give readers a way of evaluating them. The good Senator probably is fully aware he can say this kind of thing with no repercussions to speak of.

Alexander's speech this morning contains the same stuff and a lot more, so let's hope his speech -- and other similar arguments we're sure to hear along these lines as this debate heats up -- is met with some aggressive scrutiny and fact checking.

By Greg Sargent  | January 4, 2011; 11:04 AM ET
Categories:  Senate Republicans, filibuster  
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Comments

I am a voter and BIG fan of Senate obstructionist tactics (at least for two more years ; )

Posted by: clawrence12 | January 4, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I Like Lamar (I voted for him), though I disagree with him here. A little mild filibuster reform would benefit everybody, especially if it required that you actually stay and defend your position to filibuster. Anonymous holds should be gone--that's just silly, folks should defend the hold, in public, on some sort of grounds.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 4, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

@claw: That reveals much about you, but then I suppose that was your original intent, since you've posted that sentiment twice today.

Posted by: DinOH | January 4, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

DinOH, I am simply responding to Greg's repeated posts on the subject.

Kevin, forcing Senators to waste time is inefficient; at least the way it is now allows them to move on to other business.

Posted by: clawrence12 | January 4, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

"...especially if it required that you actually stay and defend your position to filibuster. Anonymous holds should be gone--that's just silly, folks should defend the hold, in public, on some sort of grounds." This is all Udall is proposing, that's it.

Posted by: shrink2 | January 4, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

"Does Alexander really think voters are fans of Senate obstructionist tactics?"

Unprecedented Democratic Party obstructionist tactics in Reid's Senate:

"The Majority Leader is always the first to be recognized on the Senate floor, and he can use that power to offer a series of Democrat amendments to pending legislation in a manner that prevents Republicans from offering any of their ideas. This is called “filling the tree.” According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Majority Leader Reid has employed this tactic a record 44 times. He has used it to block minority input into legislation three times more often than the previous Majority Leader, and more than the past six Majority Leaders combined.

"... Majority Leader Reid has indicated his lack of interest in deliberation by moving to shut down debate the very day measures are first considered on the Senate floor. According to CRS, the majority has done this nearly three times more, on average, than the previous six majorities. In fact, the current majority in its two Congresses in power has moved to end debate on measures a total of 29 times prior to any amendments even being voted on. The previous majority did this less than half as often—only 12 times in the preceding two Congresses.

"... The current majority has completely eliminated the committee process for important matters. According to CRS, this majority has set a record for bypassing the committee process, doing so 43 times total. In fact, according to CRS, it has done this almost 50 percent more than the last majority and, on average, twice as much as was done in the prior seven Congresses (1993 to 2006)."

http://hotair.com/archives/2011/01/04/filibuster-reform-pretty-much-going-as-assumed/

Posted by: sbj3 | January 4, 2011 12:03 PM | Report abuse

The Senate rules don't matter. If the Dems need 60 they will only get 59. If they need 55 they will only get 54. The Dems don't want to win; they want to do what the GOP tells them to do. This is a red herring. If the Dems really wanted to reform the rules to get positive things done they would have done it when it mattered -- 2 years ago. The fact that they didn't tells you all you need to know about the bona fides of this "reform." This is a Dog & Pony Show.

Posted by: wbgonne | January 4, 2011 12:10 PM | Report abuse

The Nation has a very informative article, about the origins, and entire history of The Filibuster.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/157453/filibuster-faq-fact-fiction-and-why-we-need-reform

Excerpt(use link to read the entire, very informative, article.

"2. Which Foolish Founder Including a Hijacking Provision in the Constitution?

Don't blame James Madison, or George Mason, or Alexander Hamilton for this one. There is no provision for the filibuster in the US Constitution [6]. Nor were there any filibusters in the first fifty years of the US Senate. It was not until 1841, during the debate on the bill to charter the Second Bank of the United States, that something akin to a filibuster was used [7]. Even then, the tactic was so rarely and gingerly adopted that it has been said "sightings of comets were more common than filibusters in the 19th century."

Only in the past decade has the filibuster become a common tactic [8], but what passes for a filibuster today does not resemble what most Americans think of when they hear the term. Today, senators threaten to filibuster and on the basis of the threat, the Senate Majority Leader does not schedule a vote until a super-majority, two-fifths of sworn senators (60 members), are ready to force action. The fake filibuster tactic has become exceptionally common in recent years, as the Senate has adopted a two-track system that allows consideration of controversial legislation to be delayed while other measures advance. The effect has been dramatic. Where in the 1950s, years might go by without a single cloture vote to end debate, more than 130 cloture motions were filed [9] in both the 110th and 111th congresses.

3. The Filibuster is a Parliamentary Procedure, Not a Speech"

Posted by: Liam-still | January 4, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

The MSM doing oversight and fact-checking, Greg? Well, I wish, but those days are over. They are too cowed by winger bullies and fearful of being called 'liberal' so they let the thugs walk over them and simply regurgitate and catapult the propaganda.

This is why our national dialogue is now 100% childish, naive, fallacious and absurdist republican drivel.

Posted by: fiona5 | January 4, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"The MSM doing oversight and fact-checking, Greg?"

Well, I'm betting that nobody's fact-checking Greg's work either. Which is part of the problem - as mainstream outlets try to compete with non-mainstream voices, both in terms of timeliness and cost, fact-checkers are in the way as both an extra cost and delay in publishing.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 4, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

"The interesting question here is this: Why exactly is it that Senator Alexander feels free to air a response that's pure fiction?"

Because it suits his purpose (to obstruct the Senate Dems and prevent anything he and the GOP leadership don't want from getting passed), and because he knows that the traditional media won't call him on it because they have the same disdain for common reality that he has and the same masters.

What I want to know, though, is whether the paid trolls really believe the meager amount they are being paid will somehow insulate them from the harsh financial and environmental reality that is coming in the next few yerars, or if they just like being on what they see as the "winning team".

Posted by: Mimikatz | January 4, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"Why exactly is it that Senator Alexander feels free to air a response that's pure fiction? "

I'll take that softball, Greg. Because Alexander KNOWS that he will incur no political price. And he knows that because the GOP has paid no price for any of its obstreperous conduct since Obama was elected. Obama had the Cheney Creep Family come after him and Obama stood mute. As the GOP exploratory attacks continued it became obvious that Obama was spineless. Obama let the GOP whittle him down to nothing and then he drifted off into the ether like a dry leaf. Now Obama's trying to revive himself by becoming Bill Clinton the Second. (Even though Obama is MOST DEFINITELY NOT following the Clinton playbook and triangulating, which we know because Obama says so.) I just hope Obama sticks with school uniforms and donuts and leaves Social Security and Medicare alone.

Posted by: wbgonne | January 4, 2011 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Another example of why the Republicans have been so successful: take an issue and wrap it in slogans that completely distort the truth and get yourself on TV or the newspaper. No one will really care about the issue, all that will come through is "Democrats taking away your rights" as if the Constitution says anything about the filibuster. What about my rights? This clown and his ilk have been trying to stifle my Senators' voices for years. God help us.

Posted by: mikemfr | January 4, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Confused? No. Senile? Maybe. Wily? No. rEPUBLICAN? Definitely.

Posted by: hoser3 | January 4, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

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