Knoxville News Sentinel: Greg Johnson: Alexander takes on new Reid's Rules

Posted on January 7, 2011

Not so long ago in a land not so far away, the people spoke. They spoke loudly, their message unmistakable. "Enough!" they said. "Enough with bailouts and stimulus that doesn't stimulate. Enough with late-night votes and unread bills. Enough with secretive spending cloaked in gargantuan legislation. Enough with borrowing 40 cents of every dollar the federal government spends. Enough one-party rule."

Alas, Harry Reid didn't hear them. Or, if he did, the majority leader of the United States Senate is ignoring them. So, with Republicans now in control of the House, and with Reid's grip on the Senate diminished, Harry wants to change the rules.

Specifically, Reid wants to end the filibuster. Every returning Democrat - there are 53 of them now, seven short of a filibuster-proof majority of 60 - sent Reid a letter in December asking him to "take steps to bring abuses of our rules to an end." Of course they meant Republican "abuses" of the rules, not the use of "reconciliation" to change an essential part of American life - health care - and not Reid's disregard for debate and deliberation.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is resisting Reid's Rules.

"Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing some Democrats want to do is cut off the right of the people they elected to make their voices heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate," Alexander said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation earlier this week. "In the November elections, voters showed that they remember the passage of the health care law on Christmas Eve, 2009: midnight sessions, voting in the midst of a snow storm, back room deals, little time to read, amend or debate the bill, passage by a straight party line vote."

Alexander isn't alone in his animus. Alexander said, "As Investor's Business Daily wrote, 'The Senate Majority Leader has a plan to deal with Republican electoral success. When you lose the game, you simply change the rules. When you only have 53 votes, you lower the bar to 51.' This is called election nullification."

While Reid and what's left of the left rail about Republican obstructionism, Alexander, citing data from the Congressional Research Service, noted, "The majority leader has used his power to cut off all amendments and debate 44 times - more than the last six majority leaders combined. The majority leader has moved to shut down debate the same day measures are considered nearly three times more, on average, than the last six majority leaders. The majority leader has set the record for bypassing the committee process - bringing a measure directly to the floor 43 times during the 110th and 111th Congresses."

To slow Reid's roughshod rule, Republicans' only tool is the filibuster. "Let's be clear what we mean when we say the word 'filibuster,'" Alexander said. "Let's say the majority leader brings up the health care bill. I go down to the floor to offer an amendment and speak on it. The majority leader says 'no' and cuts off my amendment. I object. He calls what I tried to do a filibuster. I call what he did cutting off my right to speak and amend, which is what I was elected to do."

Alexander noted that other senators have defended the Senate's two-century-old rule. "The filibuster is far from a 'procedural gimmick.' It's part of the fabric of this institution that we call the Senate." So said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., not so long ago, when Democrats were in the minority.