Filibuster to death

With the healthcare bill in shark-infested waters, being devoured by forces that make Americans cynical about Washington, let’s amend the Senate rules to require 55 votes for cloture.

Men and women will live or die based on what the Senate does on healthcare. Others will face more bankruptcy, foreclosure, hardship and disease because of their inability to pay for healthcare.

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It is literally true that some Americans will be filibustered to death if no bill, or the wrong bill, is enacted.

Filibuster abuse has turned the Senate into a banana-republic institution with daily damage to Main Street Americans who believe elections matter, majority rules and broad national interests should rise above narrow special interests.

Senate rules have been so abused that the majority no longer rules on anything. Every major bill is subject to filibuster, either preventing action or perverting legislation at a time of economic crisis and multiple wars.

I warned Senate Republicans in 2006 that their abuse of the filibuster was preventing urgently needed action and would lead to disaster at the polls.

I warned Senate Republicans in 2008 that their filibusters were doing grave damage to the national economy, trapping the nation in a deepening morass, and would lead them to disaster in the 2008 elections.

As the gathering storm of economic disaster engulfed America, Republicans filibustered against even minor economic stimulus, and today certain Republicans look almost gleeful as more Americans lose their jobs.

Now, with some Democrats joining the filibuster threat on healthcare, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is, to his great credit, a virtual prime minister. To steer a worthy healthcare bill to passage, Reid will need the wartime skill of Winston Churchill and the legislative clout of Lyndon Johnson.

The president should ask all Senate Democrats to vote their conscience but publicly renounce the filibuster threat. Democrats should prepare a reconciliation procedure to pass and finance a genuine public healthcare option as a threat they will carry out if needed. The Senate should amend cloture rules to require a more reasonable 55 votes to end debate.

If senators believe a bill is wrong, they should oppose it. If they believe an amendment is right, they should support it. This is their right and duty. If they have strong beliefs in rare and exceptional cases, they should filibuster.

However, to turn the filibuster into the daily destruction of the Senate’s ability to act is a deformation of our democracy, a dictatorship of the minority and a destruction of the United States Senate.

The craven and daily abuse of the filibuster corrupts the core of our democacy by nullifying our elections, our president and a majority of the House, Senate and American people.

We are a nation at war, facing devastating economic hardship to countless millions of Americans, about to consider a healthcare bill that will dramatically affect every American family.

It is time for the majority to be respected and for the banana-republic obstruction to end. It is time to draw the line against the filibuster fiasco that has done far too much damage to far too many Americans for far too many years.



Budowsky was an aide to then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.