Monday, December 28, 2009

December 28, 2009

      Should the U.S. Senate be euthanized?  Put to sleep?  These days you could make a case for it.      I remember the 1960s when white Southern senators filibustered the Civil Rights Act.  It went on for weeks.  Filibusters were rare back then and the bill did finally pass with bipartisan support.      It takes three-fifths of the Senate--60 votes--to end a filibuster.  Nowadays somebody seems to threaten one every time a senator asks permission to sneeze or scratch his nose.   In a recent New York Times column Paul Krugman quotes political scientist Barbara Sinclair as noting that in the 1960s filibusters - threatened or actual - affected 8% of major legislation.  Now?  70%.      The Senate finally passed a health care bill.  Every single Democrat had to vote for it for that to happen because every single Republican voted against it.  One dissenting Democrat and the debate would have continued, the filibuster would have begun.  Certainly that is the most partisan approach to legislating, but probably not the best one.        Krugman, in that Times column, notes that in the 1990s  Senators Lieberman of Connecticut and Harkin of Iowa proposed a change--60 votes needed on the first vote to cut off debate, but 57 votes a day or two later and so on down to a simple majority.\     I don't know if that's the best fix but, come on guys, ya gotta do something!      The filibuster is not part of the Constitution;  it's just part of the Senate rules.  The senators can change those anytime they want to--usually at the start of a new session.       I'll say it again...I don't know if that's the best fix but, come on guys, ya gotta do something!
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