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Web Letter

I have to agree with many of the letters that state that Greider's idea to change the Senate rules is a bad idea. Two years ago, I watched with some kind of pathetic pride (possible?) as the disemboweled Democrats actually acted like an opposition party for once and stood up for themselves. Let's face it--the Republicans have always been very agressive when in the minority. Sure, at times it has worked against progress. But many times it has created better legislation.

We send representatives to Washington to govern, not play partisan games. Mitch McConnell is pretty distasteful to me, but he is the Senate minority Leader. You can't get past that. We need to create some compromise--shock!--and get stuff done. It has been done in more primitive times. It can be done now.

What most of us are really afraid to acknowledge is how partisan wrangle is the pure design of corporate politics. Know of a better way to gum up the system? True campaign finance reform is the only solution to most of our legislative problems.

Michael Brett

Evanston, IL

Dec 18 2008 - 11:42am

Web Letter

The theory justifying the filibuster is to allow the minority to delay action and extend debate, not to give forty-one senators the right to outvote fifty-nine. Indeed, this result is arguably a direct violation of the founders' "original intent."

It used to be the only way you could have a filibuster was to keep talking (sometimes senators would speak overnight) and when the filibustering side had all spoken, a vote was held. Now what typically happens is you have a cloture vote and if there aren't sixty votes, the bill dies.

Personally, I wish the Democrats had accepted the Republicans' efforts to get rid of the filibuster in 2005 even though it would have meant more right-wing judges. Alas, the opportunity was squandered.

Because of this history, I'm not optimistic about the chances of rules reform, but what should be done?

While I wouldn't shed too many tears if the practice of the filibuster died entirely (really, isn't the minority protected enough by requiring majorities in two houses plus a presidential signature?), there is a reasonable argument to give the minority some ability to extend debate.

So, borrowing from our friends in the UK, where the House of Lords can block legislation for a year but no more, I would suggest that the power of cloture should extend no more than one calendar year. This would still give forty-one senators plenty of room to "gum up the works," but at least restore the basic principle of majority rule to our government.

Steve Dubb

Tampa, FL

Dec 15 2008 - 3:23pm

Web Letter

While I know it will be a negative at times in the future, I think the filibuster should be abolished completely. Let's become closer to the democracy we are always pushing on other countries. I'm unaware of our advocating an electoral college or filibuster procedure on Iraq or other countries. We already have an undemocratic Senate based on the two senators per state. With the filibuster, a group of senators representing a small minority of the people can thwart policies specifically endorsed by the electorate. And it's usually the right-wing South that has blocked progressive legislation in this country for over 200 years. It's time for democracy.

Elkan Katz

Philadelphia, PA

Dec 15 2008 - 10:29am

Web Letter

It was not many years ago that when the minority wanted to filibuster, the dissenting Senators had to get up on the podium and speak--without ending--in order to hold the floor and stop the legislation. In this way they put themselves on display and it was clear that this was a minority standing in the way of the will of the majority. The public could then judge whether they saw this as obstruction (as most Northerners saw the filibusters against civil rights legislation) or the some principled stand. Filibusters were few and far between and usually meant that the speakers felt very strongly about the issue.

What we have had in recent years is very different. I believe that the new tactic was not used until Republican minorities introduced it. The minority indicates it has more than forty members against a bill and the majority just quits--there is no public display of opposition. The nation doesn't get to see that what may be very popular majority measures are being stopped by a minority--who may not feel strongly enough to make their opposition public by getting up and speaking endlessly (and usually saying nothing or reading from an encyclopedia or the equivalent)--and sometimes opening themselves to ridicule by some and admiration by others. At least we see what is happening and can judge for ourselves.

Make these minorities get up and actually filibuster. Don't withdraw important bills the majority will vote for just because you don't have sixty votes. It's cowardly and it should stop.

Peter Braun

Arlington, MA

Dec 14 2008 - 3:54pm

Web Letter

This idea--what the Republicans rightly called the nuclear strategy--this notion scares the hell out of me.

Look. I'm a lefty from way back. And to me, the sixty-vote rule represents a way to protect the rights of minorities. Sometimes, as in recent days, it is we who are in the minority.

No. A far better way is to find a consensus--a center-oriented way to govern. Yes, McConnell is a prickly so-and-so. Nonetheless he represents views held by many, many of our fellow citizens, views that need to be respected. Anything less is simply carrying the torch of polarization and is clearly abuse of power.

So, a message to the Senate: Find a way to work it out, boys.

Michael Spencer

Naples, FL

Dec 14 2008 - 8:34am

Web Letter

Be careful what you wish for. When the "nuclear option" was being pushed by Frist, one Democrat made the point that "they're not going to be in the majority forever, and when that time comes they might regret doing this." Same applies now. Some future Republican majority would just love to be able to pass a bunch of loony right-wing measures without having to bother reaching across the aisle. In most cases, there will be at least two, maybe three or four Republicans who will prevent a filibuster from holding up.

If Al Franken wins, there will be fifty-nine Democrats, and Arlen Specter voted for the EFCA last time, so there you have it.

Scott Petiya

Lakewood, CO

Dec 14 2008 - 12:21am

Web Letter

Greider, is, as usual, far ahead of the crowd in his approach to our problems: another great article, another great idea...

Michael McKinlay

Hercules, CA

Dec 13 2008 - 3:51am

Web Letter

Mr. Grieder is on target that Senate Republicans will abuse the sixty-vote cloture vote minimum to reinforce their reduced power. Unquestionably, the Republican Party leadership is devoid of statesmen. I doubt, however, that lowering the sixty-vote minimum to fifty is good long-term strategy. The tyranny of the majority is a real problem in our two-party system, and the Democrats will one day find themselves on the weak side, as they were just two years ago.

The better plan is what Senate leaders negotiated in 2005 when the Republican majority of that time threatened to eliminate filibusters by reducing the cloture vote minimum to fifty-one. A "gentlemen's agreement" was negotiated under which both sides promised to avoid use of the filibuster except in the most dire of circumstances, which, though an ill-defined standard, at least raised the stakes and sent a message to the minority that constant use of filibusters was off-limits. This worked until December 2006, after which the Democrats took over a slim one-vote Senate majority. However, the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell refused to abide by the gentlemen's agreement and filibustered every chance he got, robbing Congress of any significant say in the final two years of Bush's presidency.

Clearly, it was the fault of the Democratic Senate leadership in the current Congress, which abdicated its power by refusing to address the Republicans' flouting of the filibuster rule both sides had agreed to in 2005. It is incumbent upon Senate Dems not to repeat that mistake.

Robert C. Carmody

Manhasset, NY

Dec 12 2008 - 2:05pm

Web Letter

I think you are a little bit off base assuming that the democrats should get rid of the filibuster. Even in a two-party system our government needs to work towards solutions that satisfy all Americans, not just the people that voted for them. Filibuster is one of the checks in our government that ensures the majority does not completely trample the minority.

I highly doubt you would be writing this story if the parties where switched and the Republicans were in power. If the Democrats cannot come up with solutions that please conservatives in America, then they are just as much at fault as Republicans for lack of progress.

victor gonzales

Chandler, AZ

Dec 12 2008 - 2:53am

Web Letter

The basic principle of our democracy is that the majority rules, but the rights of the minority must be respected. The founding fathers understood this principle, as they created the House of Representatives based on population, but created the Senate so that the small and the big states would have equal rights. As in any association, if the minority's concerns are consistently ignored, people will leave that organization.

Your opinion is very short-sighted and may someday work against you. The conservatives could be in power one day. Do you really want them to pass bad legislation without the ability to make the legislation more acceptable? If your view prevails, this country, in my opinion, will be in bad shape.

Frederick Gasser

Staten Island, NY

Dec 12 2008 - 2:42am