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January 29, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Kudos to Harry Reid for knowing when politicians shouldn’t talk in Congress

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Majority Leader Harry Reid reversed himself last week and came out in favor of reforming the Senate filibuster. Better late than never.

The filibuster is a procedural tool the minority party uses to force the majority party to win 60 votes out of 100 to move ahead with anything, thus paralyzing the routine functions of government.

The advantage of the filibuster for the minority is that the public is only dimly aware of what it is and why it is used. All that voters know is that Washington is gridlocked and broken, and they tend to blame the majority party, not the party using the filibuster to do the gridlocking.

It might seem obvious that Reid would back changes to the filibuster, given that he’s in the majority and is so often the victim of it. But Reid, like many in the world’s most exclusive club, is an institutionalist and traditionalist. He opposed changes proposed in early 2011 by Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., which would have weakened though not eliminated the filibuster. That’s why his statement last week was so important.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun in his office in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun in his office in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

To Republican readers: You should welcome Reid’s attack on the filibuster, as Republicans are bound to take back the Senate eventually, and perhaps as early as this year. You’ll have legislative priorities, and they won’t go anywhere if Reid is minority leader and still has the filibuster as it is currently practiced.

As minority leader, Reid used it in 2005 and 2006 to school then-Majority Leader Bill Frist, grinding down Republican legislative initiatives.

More important than any of that, however, the filibuster is just plain wrong, at least as it’s currently being used. The framers of the Constitution were explicit about when a supermajority should be required for Congress to act — impeachment, amending the Constitution, etc. (I’m indebted here to The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, who recently wrote a persuasive article on the subject.)

The filibuster was once a minor annoyance, used sparingly. We used to have less party discipline because there were northern liberal Republicans and conservative southern Democrats. And there were social norms — essentially a gentlemen’s agreement — that you didn’t block the majority party just for its own sake.

Now, all Senate business stops without 60 votes.

As a result, important executive branch positions requiring Senate approval are unfilled and even legislation that Republicans support is left to languish because they’ll happily blame Democrats for government inaction and know the public will be none the wiser.

The real test for Reid will be if the Republicans win the majority. Reid understands better than anyone that Washington accusations of hypocrisy on these process issues mean little to the public. So my fear is that if the Republicans win the majority, he’ll reverse course, ignore hypocrisy cries, claim the almighty importance of the filibuster and use it to stop Senate business at every turn. (Then we’ll be forced to endure the bellowing of the conservative talk radio chatty dolls, who will suddenly be extolling saintly majority rule.)

I hope he doesn’t do that. I hope that for the good of the country, a minority leader Reid would do the unthinkable by giving up some power and agreeing not just to reforming the filibuster, but to eliminating it.

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  1. They should change it back to how it was when keeping debate open meant that senators had to continue to speak on the senate floor. I'd love to see modern day senators make fools of themselves trying to block legislation. I've only been able to read about people like Strom Thurmond speaking on the senate floor about gibberish for more than 24 hours trying to filibuster the civil rights act. Just think of all the funny material it would provide for the daily show!

  2. I thought Reid should have let Frist change the filibuster back then even though he was trying to restrict abortions. I suppose Frist knew better then fight too hard for it because it really helped his rich doctor buddies in the recent past. All in all the fillibuster is not good for the poor.

  3. Mr. Coolican,

    Perhaps you are unaware that many of your fellow citizens awaken daily and hope & pray for government inaction. Hence, we fully support all talk and no action.


  4. This imbeciles record of keeping his mouth shut leaves much to be desired. He constantly suffers from foot in mouth disease.

  5. Once again we see Harry the Red for the hypocrite he really is. The jerk used the filibuster to thwart almost every proposal put forth by George W & the Republicrats when Dumbocrats were in the minority and, now that it's come back to bite him, as it should, he's crying like a baby. Nevadan's made a terrible mistake reelecting the fruitcake and now not only do we, but the entire nation suffers for that!

  6. Markey,

    Yes, we all remember and we are very happy that you remember as well. Now, please let us all know how that has changed your life.


  7. Reid does what's good for Reid at any given moment. He'll change tomorrow if he thinks he would benefit him.

    He is an embarrassment for Nevada. Who uses their kids and grand kids as "cover" for a position on Protection of Marriage? Harry does.

  8. The arc of justice is long but it bends toward justice. Just as the direct election of Senators was adopted; I think the fillibuster should be banned.

  9. It will be interesting to see how many of those here who want to ban the filibuster will still say that if the Republicans take the Senate this year, which might happen.

  10. deliberance.

  11. There is absolutely NOTHING that Harry Reid deserves kudos for. NOTHING. If he were a Republican I would be so embarrassed.

  12. I thought he was a Republican !

  13. Harry The Hater follow the rules?? Since when??