The New York Times: A Warning on Reining in Filibusters

Posted on January 4, 2011

Senator Lamar Alexander derided Democrats’ efforts to rein in the use of  filibusters in the Senate as a “brazen power grab” and warned of “guaranteed” retribution when Republicans return to the majority.

Democrats are expected to introduce rules Wednesday that would require lawmakers to be on the floor to filibuster legislation and lower to 51 the number of votes required to adopt the new rules.

In a speech Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy organization in Washington, Mr. Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, said the changes would allow the shrunken Democratic majority to ram through legislation with little or no input from across the aisle–a tactic Senator Harry Reid himself opposed when Democrats were in the minority.

Mr. Alexander advised Democrats to allow “cooler heads” to prevail.

“The demise of the Senate is not because Republicans seek to filibuster,” Mr. Alexander said, blaming the Democratic leadership for stifling bipartisan progress on legislation.

“So the real ‘party of no’ is the majority party that has been saying ‘no’ to debate, and ‘no’ to voting on amendments that minority members believe improve legislation and express the voices of the people they represent,” he said. “In fact, the majority leader can claim there have been so many filibusters is because he actually is counting as filibusters the number of times he filed cloture–or moved to cut off debate.”

To back his point, he played a video reel of Democrats–including clips of Mr. Reid and the late Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia–defending the filibuster that ended with a dire prediction from then-Senator Barack Obama in 2005:

“The American people want less partisanship in this town,” Mr. Obama said. "But everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to Democratic debate; then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse." 

Mr. Alexander , who is chairman of the Republican Conference, said both parties could agree on other proposed changes including ending so-called secret holds that allow lawmakers to act anonymously a bill or nomination and winnowing the “excessive” number of executive branch appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

Democratic leaders are considering a plan to recess the Senate on Wednesday after new members are sworn in. The maneuver would keep the upper chamber in the same legislative day when lawmakers return later this month, allowing bipartisan negotiations with Republicans on the rules to continue while preserving Democrats’ ability to act unilaterally.