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Senate Filibusters

October 14, 1994

Re "Talking Democracy to Death," by Elliot L. Richardson, Commentary, Oct 6:

Richardson's commentary about the filibuster stalemates in the U.S. Senate addresses a symptom, rather than the fundamental illness that has made the 103rd Congress truly deserving of Harry Truman's campaign epithet: the Do-Nothing Congress. Richardson's proposed cure of the symptom may ultimately be worse than the disease.

The illness is ideologic poisoning. This disease is made more serious by chronic faintheartedness in the Democratic congressional leadership. A powerful Republican right wing, endowed with influence by Ronald Reagan and let run rampant under the fairly weak regime of George Bush, has had its way since 1980. Until Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, the GOP right pursued a program of dismantling government. During that time, the Democratic congressional leadership rarely fought back.

Clinton's philosophy, on the other hand, is clearly that of an activist, involved government. The Republican right is truly religious in its utter hatred of, and implacable opposition to, anything in the Clinton White House. Clinton, for his part, has done little to clarify this situation of ideological opposition and the poisoning of the legislative process. Richardson's proposal, however, sounds suspiciously like an idea to guarantee Clinton will never have any influence if the GOP is able to take control of the Senate in the coming elections. Temporarily, the end of the filibuster seems a good idea. Ultimately, the solution to this problem is not to change the rules so that a simple majority holds absolute control of the legislative process. The filibuster has been used as much for good as for evil in the history of the Senate.

Richardson should lend his considerable influence to helping Americans and their legislature recover from ideological poisoning. This country, including our renowned (and sometimes infamous) Senate, cannot function in the present situation.


Los Angeles

* Bravo to Richardson's criticism of the continual U.S. Senate filibusters to which the voters have been subjected this term. I am sick and tired watching a 41% minority overrule a 59% majority in the Senate. This is perhaps a naive but nonetheless serious question: Could Richardson's group, Action, Not Gridlock!, drag the Senate before the Supreme Court and get the court to force the Senate to operate according to the Constitution? After all, the Constitution says that a 51% majority is sufficient to pass a regular bill, not a 59% majority, which is in fact currently required. I'd be the first to make a contribution!



* I have been recently reading about the Republican abuse of the filibuster in the Senate to defeat what I consider necessary legislation, the most important being campaign finance reform. In my opinion the filibuster is an abuse of a Senate rule originated to assure complete discussion and exploration of bills before a vote. This rule, in effect, gives a minority of senators the power to veto prospective legislation. The intent of this practice would seem to be in clear violation of the majority decision-making written into the Constitution.


Laguna Beach

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