Don’t Stop at the Filibuster, Get Rid of Senate “Holds” Too

(By The Pragmatic Pundit)

In the last four years, Republicans have used the filibuster to prevent legislation from reaching the floor,  shattering previous records for filibuster use, bill passage reached an all-time low.  According to the Brennan Center, as of October 2012, the current Congress has enacted the lowest output of any Congress since World War II, passing a record-low 2.8 percent of bills introduced in that chamber.  Use of the filibuster has paralyzed and broken the Senate today in a way no one could have envisioned.

This session, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has become a leading advocate for filibuster reform. Merkley is proposing changes to the rules of the Senate that would allow bills to at least reach the floor for debate before being filibustered. The rules changes would require senators to take the floor and address their colleagues in order to block action on a piece of legislation. Right now, senators can simply obstruct bills silently, without explanation.

The proposed changes, are endorsed by at least 51 senators, many Constitutional scholars, as well as the public. A YouGov poll found that 65% of Americans favor changing the rules to require senators to debate a bill on the floor if they wish to block it from proceeding.

A hybrid of the filibuster is a procedure called the “hold”.  While many argue that they are one in the same, I can’t be sure.  Even a veteran Senator could offer no clarity.  All I know is, this secretive procedure seems to be used mostly to stop presidential appointments.  Since the act is secretive, it is difficult to count the number of holds, but in 2010 Senators had placed a record number of holds on 69 executive and judicial nominees.  

If, in fact, they are the same thing…so what!  I say, error on the side of caution…leave no loopholes and cover all the bases.  Because to demonstrate the power just one Senator can wield using the “hold” procedure, once Sen. Jim DeMint warned that he would place a hold on all legislation that had not been cleared by his office; a move that could have literally stopped all legislative activity in the government.

In 2010, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR.) proposed the “Secret Holds Elimination Act,” legislation that would force those who use secret holds out of the shadows. A bipartisan group of 68 senators endorsed the proposal, but the Senators instead made a gentlemen’s agreement that Republicans seemingly never honored.

Despite the damage caused by these blocking tactics, some Democrats worry they may be voted out as the majority party and are therefore afraid of chipping away at minority rights.  There’s one thing we can be sure of, if the Republicans controlled Congress, the first thing they would do is get rid of the filibuster and that ridiculous procedure known as the “hold” so it would not be available to the Democratic minority.  In fact, they wouldn’t even leave the fig leaf Democrats are proposing to leave.  Republicans believe in obstruction, while Democrats believe in governing.

Call, write, email, tweet, fax or visit your Senators and remind them of what Gov. Deval Patrick said at the Democratic National Convention,

“It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone …”!

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