Possible Changes In Filibuster Rules And Committees In Senate, And A Proposal

The call by the Democrats in the Senate for filibuster reform makes it the center of attention for Wednesday, January 5, 2011, the only day that such reform is possible.

As the new Senate convenes, Vice President Joe Biden will preside, and the opportunity for change will be voted on.

Among the changes proposed are the following:

1. Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they have 40 votes in favor of such action, and would have to remain on the floor to sustain the filibuster. Now an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed is enough to initiate such a filibuster.
2. Secret holds, which allow a Senator to block action on a bill or nomination anonymously, would be prevented. Any Senator who places holds would have to do so publicly.
3. Thirty hour waiting periods on motions to proceed would also be eliminated as a tactic.
4. A simple majority vote on changing Senate rules at the start of a session, rather than a two thirds majority, would be adopted.

Other Senate changes that might be voted on include:

1. Election of committee chairmen by secret ballot, instead of by affirmation unless a member objects, making committee chairmen more accountable to the other members of the committee.
2. Limitation of how many subcommittees one member can head.

Apparently, there is reluctance to make it harder to create a filibuster based on number of Senators required, with 60 Senators now needed to overcome a filibuster.

Before 1975, 67 Senators were needed to end a filibuster, and major reform was making it 60 Senators at that point.

It would seem to the author that while a minority should have the full rights to opposition, it is undemocratic to allow 41 Senators to stop action endlessly.

The author’s proposal would be to lower the threshold from 60 Senators to 55, realizing that if a candidate for public office, including the Presidency, wins 55 percent of the vote, it is considered a landslide win!

So why not lower the number for a filibuster to be overcome to 55, making it that 46 Senators would have to agree to keep a filibuster going? This still retains the right of the minority, but prevents abuse of the concept of endless debate and discussion, and prevents the kind of damage that the filibuster is now clearly seen as causing–the stoppage of often significant legislation desired by the House of Representatives and a clear cut majority of the US Senate!

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