Sixty Votes - Make Republicans Filibuster
Elections Have Consequences
When Barack Obama was elected President in November 2008, the American people also elected democratic majorities in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. The reason for this was two-fold. First, President Obama ran a campaign promising hope and change that resonated with a vast majority of the American people. Second, voters repudiated the policies of President George W. Bush and punished the Republican Party for the state of the country. To remind everyone, when George Bush left the White House in January 2009, the country was facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, two wars that had no coherent strategy and a loss of respect around the world.
One of the main promises made by Barack Obama in his campaign for the presidency was to bring real healthcare change to America. Despite the economic crisis, the financial bailouts and war, President Obama made healthcare his top issue. For the last ten months healthcare has dominated the news and dominated Washington. Conservatives blast the President’s healthcare because they claim it costs too much and grows the size of government. Liberals blast the plan because it isn’t universal healthcare. Despite what anyone thinks about the President’s plans for healthcare, healthcare is a national issue that has caught the attention of the average American. This in itself is an accomplishment.
Last week the House of Representatives passed a substantial healthcare package by five votes. Only one Republican voted in favor of the bill and 39 democrats voted against the bill. Now the bill heads to the Senate. In the Senate the democrats hold what is known as a super majority, meaning they hold the sixty votes necessary to stop a Republican filibuster. Yet, many claim that the bill will die in the Senate because of Joe Lieberman, an independent, and because of some moderate Democrats afraid to have the defend the healthcare law back at home. Despite the fact that a majority of the Senate would pass the healthcare reform bill if it came to a vote, the vote will never happen because Republicans intend to filibuster and some Democrats will not vote to stop the filibuster. Barack Obama’s response to this is simple: MAKE THEM FILIBUSTER.
The Filibuster And How It Works
The filibuster has been a procedural tactic used by the United States Senate since the adoption of the Constitution. The filibuster comes out of the Senate rules which state that every Senator has the right to take the floor for as long as they want. Historically this meant that if a Senator wanted to filibuster a bill he or she had to stand at the podium and keep the floor as long as they could. The purpose of the filibuster is to delay votes on the issues until either the filibuster ends or the bill is dropped. The record for the longest filibuster in history is held by former Republican Senator J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina who held the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to the Civil Rights Act on 1957. The only way to stop a filibuster is a by cloture motion, which means a motion to end debate. A cloture motion passes when 3/5 of the Senate votes to end the debate. This means sixty votes.
Today the filibuster is not as dramatic as it used to be. No longer does a Senator actually have to speak on the floor of the Senate. Now under the Senate rules a Senator only needs to tell the majority leader, who sets the Senate vote schedule, that he or she intends to filibuster a specific bill. This means in terms of the Healthcare care bill on its way to the Senate, any Senator call simply tell Harry Reid they intend to filibuster the bill and Senate Rules prohibit a vote on the bill until a cloture motion is passed.
Make Them Filibuster
Republicans and some moderate Democrats alike have threatened to filibuster any bill that reaches the Senate regarding Healthcare. Even though Republicans have complained that the bill is 2000 pages long and do not have time to read it, they are ready to filibuster the bill anyways. Senator Graham of South Carolina stated that the bill passed by the House is "dead on arrival." Oddly, when Republicans held a small majority in the Senate and democrats threatened to filibuster judicial nominations made by George Bush, Republicans argued that the filibuster was unconstitutional and a violation of Senate rules. Now they are holding onto the filibuster will both hands.
More important than Republicans holding the bill hostage though is the fact that Joe Lieberman has announced that he will not vote in favor of a cloture motion. That means that the democrats are at least one vote short in passing a cloture motion unless they can somehow get a Republican to change sides. Given that conservatives called for Olympia Snow’s head after she voted in favor of the Bakas bill, there is little chance that any Republican will every cross over again.
Harry Reid has the discretion under the Senate Rules, Senate Rule 22, to force those who oppose Healthcare reform actually filibuster any bill the old fashioned way. Reid can force the Republicans and Democrats and Joe Lieberman to actually stand and make speeches. Reid can force them to read the phone book for hours on end. In other words, Harry Reid can force those in opposition to take voice their opposition instead of allowing them to hide in weeds and not be held accountable for their conduct.
And this is exactly what Harry Reid should do. Make Republicans, and more importantly, moderate democrats stand at a podium and explain exactly why they oppose healthcare reform. The current health care bill is certainly not perfect and there is much to object too, but as the Senate rules now stand nobody will be held accountable for not supporting it. In fact, as the rules now stand no debate on the bill will occur and nobody actually has to leave their office. There is no accountability. Nobody will suffer the consequences.
Yet, democrats will suffer the consequences if health care reform is not passed if the Senate doesn't debate the issue. Republicans will claim that Democrats can’t get anything done. And they will be right. President Obama and Senator Reid, force Joe Lieberman and the moderate democrats explain to their constituents and the American People why they oppose healthcare reform. Make them accountable. Make them filibuster. If the Senate cannot get sixty votes, the American People deserve to know why.
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