News of the Day – 1/19/2010: Filibuster & Cloture Rules


There were a number of good articles I could comment on today but the following sound clip won out. Mostly because it deals with the specifics of how our government is run. Give a click on the link to hear from Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and his take on the filibuster rule of the U.S. Senate. I will deal with his arguments point by point.

http://www.breitbart.tv/barney-frank-god-didnt-create-the-filibuster/

First, there is no constitutional issue with the filibuster and cloture rules. The Constitution states in Article I, Section 4, Clause w: “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings…” It has been in the rules of the U.S. Senate for over two hundred years that the Senate shall be entitled to unlimited debate. When Rep. Frank suggests the Senate change the rules, he is correct in that the Senate can change its rules as it sees fit. The filibuster is totally supported by the founding fathers though, to get rid of it would be going against the original intent. Here is a story that explains the reasons behind a Senate and unlimited debate:

The “Senatorial saucer” conversation between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson is part of U.S. Senate legend. Jefferson had returned from France and was breakfasting with Washington. Jefferson asked Washington why he agreed to have a Senate.

“Why,” said Washington, “did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer before drinking it?”

“To cool it,” said Jefferson; “my throat is not made of brass.”

“Even so,” said Washington, “we pour our legislation into the Senatorial saucer to cool it.”

(http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/the_senate_is_the_saucer_into_which_we_pour_legislation_to_cool/

Secondly, he makes the claim, and rightly so, that the smaller states usually are the states that usually help filibuster. Those who look at history and the Constitution will see that originally the Senators were not elected by the populace as a whole, but by the state legislatures. The reason behind this was the Senate was created to look out for the powers and rights of the individual states. Those smaller states fought for equal representation and got it in the Great Compromise.

Thirdly, he says that the filibuster is anti-democratic. The U.S. government though is not a true democracy, it is a republic; where the rights of the minority are protected by the Constitution. Any democratically majority can pass legislation very quickly, but that would lead the tyranny of the majority, whether it be Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative and/or independent. The filibuster is there to protect the minority. Also it provide a check and balance against the House of Representatives.

The larger issue at stake here is changing good rules just because you don’t like them. This happened in Massachusetts when Sen. Ted Kennedy died. Several years ago Sen. Kennedy asked the legislature to change the rules so that Republican governor Mitt Romney would not be able to appoint a Republican candidate for a temporary senate seat for his state. And just last year he suggested another change, so that a Democratic governor could appoint a temporary senator for his state.

Also the changes they are currently making to the reconciliation process of laws passed by Congress. The health care bills need to go into a conference committee as determined by the rules of legislation in the U.S. Code of Law, but the majority party will have nothing to do with it since it would require having a number of minority party members as part of the conversation. It would also require another cloture vote in the Senate; both parties have been guilty of this practice. All of these rule changes are completely legal, but they are highly unethical and/or immoral.

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