Harkin to reintroduce bill to bust filibusters

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Saturday that he plans to reintroduce legislation to reform the filibuster process in the Senate.

The top senator on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said that he will once again attempt to pass the bill he first introduced in 1995 when Democrats were the minority party.

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"I'm going to reintroduce that again in January," Harkin told the Washington Post's Ezra Klein. "And people are going to say I only worry about this because I'm in the majority. But I come with clean hands! I started when I was in the minority!"

Harkin's comments come as the filibuster has come under fire from Democrats and liberal interest groups. Thay say that the requirement that the Senate need a 60 vote supermajority to approve procedural motions makes it too difficult to move significant legislation like healthcare reform. Some liberals blamed the filibuster for the removal of certain provisions favored by liberals such as the public health insurance option and the Medicare buy-in proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) struck the measures as part of an effort to attract holdout centrist senators. Reid neeeded to bring together all 60 members of the Democratic caucus to proceed toward a vote on healthcare reform.

But Harkin says that the filibuster is now being abused by Republicans who are using it too frequently and on noncontroversial measures, making it difficult to get things done in the Senate.

The Iowa senator said that a GOP filibuster on the unemployment extension that attracted 97 votes and early procedural votes on healthcare were out of line.

"You're supposed to filibuster something that is a deep seated issue," he said. "The idea is to give some time for extended debate but eventually allow a majority to work its will. I do believe there's some reason to have extended debate."

Harkin's plan would reduce the amount of votes needed to break a filibuster the longer it goes on. Senators would need 60 votes to break the first vote but then the amount of votes needed would drop to 57, then 54 votes and finally 51 votes.

"If a group of senators filibusters a bill, you want to take their worries seriously," he said. "Make sure you're not missing something. My proposal will do that."

Harkin compared what Republican effort to stymie the Democrats in the Senate to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's (R-Ga.) strategy of stalling the Democrats in the House when the GOP was in the minority.

"The situation in the Senate is an offshoot of the old Newt Gingrich philosophy," he said. "Took them 10 years, or even more. But it was a constant attack. And now it looks like they're trying to do that in the Senate."

Harkin also blamed Republican leaders for not reigning in members who constantly try to filibuster legislation, like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who is known as "Dr. No."

"You don't have a minority leader putting them in check, saying we have to work together," he said. "[Former Seante Republican leader Bob] Dole would never put up with what's going on over there. Neither would [former Senate Republican leader] Trent Lott."