Monday, February 1, 2010

United State Senate Has False Fear of Filibuster
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
January 31-February 7, 2010

Last week, many of us watched with anxious anticipation the State of the Union Address by President Obama. The President opened with light-hearted recognition of recent Democratic political losses in Massachusetts, New Jersey, The Commonwealth of Virginia, and the The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The policy significance of the United States Senate race in Massachusetts was that the perceived balance of power in the Upper Chamber of Congress was in jeopardy. Why?

Unlike the United States House of Representatives which functions on a simple majority vote of the 435 members, the U.S. Senate operates on a completely different—and un-democratic—set of rules. For example, in the House bills are introduced and voted on by committees. If a bill is voted out of committee to the House floor, all members vote it upon with a simple majority vote. However, the down side of democracy in the House is that the majority party (Speaker of the House) can shut down how much of a role the minority party may play. Not the case is the Senate.

In fact, one Senator can halt the course of a particular bill under current rules. In addition, there are no time limits on how long a Senator can speak on an issue, which opens the door for an even larger issue.

Paradoxically, the most democratic and un-democratic practice of the U.S. Senate is the use of a filibuster. What is filibuster? How is the filibuster used? Should the use of the filibuster be prohibited? A review of American Government 101 is useful to discover answers.

A filibuster is a procedural tool used by legislators to slow down the passage of legislation or the confirmation of a nominee to a high position. Under a filibuster, a Senator may speak indefinitely until the other political party withdraws the bill or person nominated.

In its most negative sense, the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s saw racist southern—and northern—Senators filibuster civil rights legislation aimed at securing the right to vote and the use of public accommodations by people of color. In most cases, a legislator would read long books or even the comic section of papers until the other side relented. Blah, blah, blah was the order of the day.

The most positive use of the filibuster has come in slowing down Bush Administration judicial nominees with sorted records on racial issues.

In order to diminish the impact of the filibuster in the U. S. Senate a “super majority” rule was adopted to require 60 (of 100) votes to block a filibuster. Problem is: in order to countervail the un-democratic nature of frivolous filibuster the Senate engages in “fuzzy math” that erroneously permits politicians to think that 41 votes (thus, 59 votes on the other side) constitutes a majority. Not true.

I would like to see the majority party “call the hand” of the minority party when the filibuster is threatened. In other words, if the Republican Party currently wishes to filibuster health care reform by talking incessantly on the Senate floor, then let them do so. The American people would not look kindly on politicians puffing hot air while people die while being denied access and affordability to health care. Senators predicate such a wish on more spines.

My message to the United States Senate: Fear not the filibuster. Call the opposition’s bluff and let the voters decide what issues and Senators to support.

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
633 Pennsylvania Ave
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20004
Office: 202.689.1965
Fax: 202.689.1954
Cell: 773.230.3554

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