Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, August 23, 2013

Washington, DC – As the August recess continues, observers across the country continue to weigh-in on several fronts related to Senate gridlock – particularly abuse of the filibuster, and the urgent need to resolve a number of federal judicial vacancies.

Key quote:

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on stalemates in the Senate, CommonWealth Magazine: "That's not gridlock. That's obstructionism. The Republicans are protecting those who have already made it and the Democrats are fighting to give everyone a shot. I'm sorry to be so political about it, but that's the way I see it."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Senate obstruction

See below for some additional key commentary and analysis from this week:

Commentary and Analysis

  • Stephen Spaulding, Counsel for Common Cause, Politico: “The 60-vote rule Arenberg reveres has created something that would appall the founders: a Senate in which a minority of states can take control of what was once considered the “world’s greatest deliberative body” and effectively shut down both Congress and the executive branch. The rule’s fatal flaw, the suit argues, is that it upsets, distorts and goes far beyond the balance the founders bargained between the interests of citizens residing in the larger states and those in the smaller states.”
  • Kate Sheppard and Ryan Grim, Huffington Post: “The coal industry is working to defeat a key energy nominee in a battle that has fractured the fossil fuel coalition and threatens to derail the president's climate action plan. But even an alliance of oil, gas and green groups might not be enough for Binz. The chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), warned the White House that Binz would face an uphill climb in his committee, according to a person familiar with the exchange. The administration went ahead with the nomination.”
  • Nora Mead Brownell, a George W. Bush appointee who served as a FERC commissioner from 2001 to 2006, in a Huffington Post piece: "I'm frankly outraged by the process that these appointments have become … They've become political battlegrounds where good people are torn apart because someone doesn't agree with their policies. The role of the Senate is to approve based on whether they're qualified or not, not whether they agree with that appointee."
  • Matthew Yglesias, Slate: “… Making it harder to pass laws simply makes it harder to pass laws. It has nothing in particular to do with majoritarianism or minority interests or anything else. It's a status quo measure. To the extent that you think the status quo is great, then maybe you love a 60 vote threshold. Maybe you think it should be raised to 65 or 75 or 95. Or maybe instead of a bicameral legislature we should have a four-chamber legislature. It's easy to think of new ways to make it harder to change the laws. But that's the issue. Making it hard to change laws systematically preserves the advantages of whatever groups are advantaged by the status quo.”
  • Scott Lemieux, The American Prospect: “The constitutionalism of the framers was a mixture of majority rule and checks on majority power; no support for any particular check can be inferred from this. The fact that they didn't include a supermajority requirement on Senate legislative votes even though they did for other things (such as veto overrides and constitutional amendments) tends to suggest that they thought that a routine supermajority requirement wasn't a desirable check.”
  • Editorial, Billings Gazette (MT): “The Senate is scheduled to be in session weekdays all month after Sept. 9. It takes both chambers to pass legislation, but senators alone can act on the backlog of judicial nominations. Top priority should be given to designated Judicial Emergencies, such the two Montana U.S. District Court judgeships. The Senate Judiciary Committee should quickly send the nominations of Judge Susan Watters and Justice Brian Morris to the Senate for approval and leadership should bring them up for floor vote just as quickly.”
  • Roy M. Fish, Guest Columnist, Shreveport Times (LA): The will of the majority is supposed to prevail in our law making process subject to the protection of minority rights. Two current practices are thwarting the will of the majority, abuse of the filibuster and gerrymandering. The filibuster has been a tool of the minority in the Senate to defeat legislation supported by the majority. Historically, it was used only rarely to defeat critical legislation or presidential appointments. Since Democrats gained a majority in the Senate in the post Bush-Cheney era, Republicans have used it more in one year than it was previously used in 50.
  • Letters to Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA): “He voted against the bipartisan Paycheck Fairness Act for equal pay for women. And he recently said at a Tea Party-sponsored event, "I told you we'd kill it, and we did," referring to the successful filibuster he led to stop the bipartisan transportation bill -- despite more than 4,000 of Pennsylvania's bridges being structurally deficient. That is the reason Sen. Toomey's obstructionist voting is so wrong: It harms Pennsylvania, whether veterans benefits, women's rights or our deteriorating highways.”
  • Letter to Editor, Arizona Daily Sun (AZ): “I hope Sen. Jeff Flake will be paying attention when the next big test of the Senate’s ability to govern comes up after Labor Day: votes on three highly qualified nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Sen. McCain says all three of these nominees deserve a yes-or-no vote on the Senate floor, and he’s right. But some GOP Senators take the opposite view. They don’t seem to care how qualified the nominees are.”
  • Letter to the Editor, Star Journal (WI): “As long as the Republicans are ruled by the right wing extremists this all out obstruction will go on forever. They are the bully boys out on the playground holding office in a Congress which is supposed to represent the people who sent them there. They are getting rich at our expense.”


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