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Eliminating the Silent Filibuster

Posted on Jan 22, 2013
Moyers & Company

Larry Cohen

There was just one filibuster in the six years that Lyndon Johnson served as Senate majority leader in the late 1950s. In Harry Reid’s tenure, the stalling tactic has been used almost 400 times, Larry Cohen, a leader of the Democracy Initiative, told Bill Moyers on the latest edition of “Moyers & Company.”

What’s more, the filibuster today differs from the kind used in Johnson’s time. Senators from the minority party no longer have to be physically present and speaking in the chamber. They simply agree to a silent, sometimes anonymous filibuster in which no one is required to speak, and any proposed law has to get 60 percent approval to be passed.

Since 2007, Republicans have used that filibuster nearly 400 times, “blocking everything from equal pay for equal work and jobs bills to immigration reform and judicial appointments,” Moyers said.

The result is a “perversion” of democracy, Cohen says. “[W]e believe that what a democracy means is that the American people are entitled to get discussion, debate and eventually a vote on the critical questions of the day. But we haven’t had that in decades in the U.S. Senate. Things, everything dies there, it doesn’t get discussed and debated there as people used to believe. We need to bring back the debate in the U.S. Senate.”

Cohen is fighting to reform the filibuster. A Senate resolution authored by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and endorsed by Cohen’s group would require that objecting senators talk in public view. The rest of Cohen’s proposed reform involves three actions. First, allowing majority leaders to put a bill on the floor for debate. Second, limiting the time allotted to discuss presidential nominations. And third, the creation of a “conference committee” between the House and the Senate to quickly align legislation passed by both houses.


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Senators have only hours to make the change, as the opportunity for reform apparently disappears Tuesday. “Unless the Senate reforms the filibuster on Tuesday, the minority wrecking crew remains in charge for the next two years,” Moyers said.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

‘Moyers & Company’:

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