Sen. Byrd calls proposed Democratic changes to filibuster rules 'misguided'

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) warned Democratic colleagues Wednesday against changing filibuster rules in order to advance their legislative priorities.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter dated Tuesday, Byrd, the longest-serving member of the Senate, said that the Senate's rules on ending debate shouldn't be changed, but he encouraged forcing senators to actually sustain debate in a real, live filibuster.

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"I am sympathetic to frustrations about the Senate's rules, but those frustrations are nothing new," Byrd wrote. "However, I believe that efforts to change or reinterpret the rules in order to facilitate expeditious action by a simple majority, while popular, are grossly misguided."

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Some liberal Democrats have called for a change in the Senate's filibuster rules, which require 60 votes to end debate on an issue. In recent years, the mere threat of a filibuster on a matter before the Senate has meant a de facto requirement that most votes in the Senate have to have 60 votes.

The frustration over the filibuster has been especially manifest in the healthcare debate, where all 41 Republicans, sticking together, have been able to sustain a filibuster.

Byrd said the solution to the Senate's impasse would be to force Republican senators to actually filibuster — that is, continually talk and debate on the Senate floor without yielding.

"Senators are obliged to exercise their best judgment when invoking their right to extended debate," Byrd said. " They should also be obliged to actually filibuster — that is, go to the floor and talk, instead of finding less strenuous ways to accomplish the same end."