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Bernie Sanders: Weak Filibuster Reform Won’t Stop the Perversion of Democracy


Bernie Sanders explained that he voted no on filibuster reform, because the agreement would not stop the Republican perversion of democracy.

In a statement Sen. Sanders said,

The rule changes adopted today are a step forward in making the operations of the Senate more efficient and expeditious. They are not enough. Most Americans grew up believing that in America the majority rules. That is not the case in the Senate. For many years now, especially since President Obama has been in office, it has taken 60 votes to pass any significant piece of legislation. When Lyndon Johnson was majority leader in the 1950s, he filed cloture to end a filibuster only once. Majority Leader Reid has filed cloture 390 times.

This country faces major crises in terms of the economy and unemployment, the deficit, global warming, health care, campaign finance reform, education and a crumbling infrastructure – to name a few. In my view, none of these problems will be effectively addressed so long as one senator can demand 60 votes to pass legislation.

The Senate is not the House and the minority party must be treated with respect and given the opportunity to offer amendments and make their case in opposition. A minority must not, however, be allowed to permanently obstruct the wishes of the majority. That is not democracy. That is a perversion of democracy.

In my view, if a senator or a group of senators are strenuously opposed to legislation they have the right and duty to come to the floor and, for as long as they want, engage in a talking filibuster by explaining to the American people the reasons for their objection. They should not, however, continue to have the right to abuse arcane Senate rules to block a majority of senators from acting on behalf of the American people.

Sen. Sanders is correct on both counts. The new rules will help the Senate move faster and more efficiently. For this reason alone they aren’t the failure that many progressive activists are making them out to be, but these changes don’t go far enough to stop Republicans from abusing Senate rules.

The problem associated with the current filibuster rules is accountability. Between the system of senatorial holds and silent filibusters, there is zero accountability for Republicans who abuse the rules. A senator can block everything from vital appointments to aid for veterans and disaster relief without having to be held publicly accountable for their unpopular positions.

The reason why senators in both parties hate the idea of the talking filibuster is that it would put them on record as owning their unpopular positions. Filibusters are currently easy to invoke and carry no negative political consequences. The discussion about the sixty vote rule versus the fifty one vote rule can be debated until the end of time, but none of it will matter until senators are publicly held accountable for their positions.

The easiest way to fix the filibuster problem is to make senators stand up in front of the world and own it.

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