Democratic leaders should be listening to Tom Harkin

Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced a resolution yesterday that would change the Senate’s rules on filibusters:

the first vote on a cloture motion – which ends a filibuster – would require 60 votes to proceed, the next would be two days later and require 57. This process would repeat itself until the number fell to 51, or a simple majority.

The idea is to restore the filibuster to its original use (delaying passage of a bill) as opposed to its current use by Republicans (to impose a super-majority requirement for every Senate action). The authors of the Constitution never intended to make the Senate unable to act without the consent of 60 percent of its members. But Republicans used the filibuster more times in 2009 than it was used during the entire period from 1949 to 1970.

However, an unofficial whip count shows Democrats very far from having enough votes to change the filibuster rules. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in effect took the issue off the table yesterday.

Also yesterday, Harkin advised President Obama to use recess appointments for dozens of nominees whom Republicans have been holding up. Unfortunately, the White House announced that the president will not use his recess appointment powers for now, because the Senate confirmed 27 out of more than 60 nominees Republicans are holding up. (The list of those 27 nominees is here.) Although Obama’s statement reserves the right to make recess appointments in the future, he should not have taken that off the table as long as Senate Republicans continue to hold dozens of nominees in limbo.

One of the most controversial nominees is Craig Becker. A February 9 filibuster blocked his appointment to the National Labor Relations Board, because Becker is supposedly too pro-labor. President George W. Bush used recess appointments to name seven of his nine appointees to the NLRB. Of course, they were all anti-labor. It’s past time to bring balance to that board.

UPDATE: Senator Dick Durbin supports Harkin’s filibuster reform efforts. A “senior leadership aide” told Greg Sargent that Durbin is “in talks with a number of other Democratic senators regarding possible changes to Senate rules.”

SECOND UPDATE: A new CBS/New York Times poll found 50 percent of respondents said the filibuster should not remain in place, while 44 percent said they should. I think with more education of the public about how the filibuster obstructs progress, support for changing the rules would grow.

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