It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to post something here at Blue Mass Group – please don’t tell Huffington Post, but it’s always nice to come home!
Last night, one of my guys emailed me the very smart, thoughtful piece on filibuster reform that appeared here yesterday: http://bluemassgroup.com/2012/11/lets-all-give-john-kerry-a-call-shall-we-filibuster-reform-now/
A few quick thoughts:
1.) First – big kudos to everyone who pulled together this election, both in MA and nationally – historic victories that strengthen our ability to fight for things that are fundamental to our ideas of fairness and progress.
2.) The fact that we gained Senate seats in an election cycle conventional wisdom deemed beyond dangerous for us was a very big deal and I think a profound message – not just that conventional wisdom can be proven wrong, but that Tea Party primaries have been as much of a disaster for Republicans politically as it has been a blow to the Senate’s ability to get things done for the American people.
3.) On the filibuster specifically, I’ve actually been a broken record about the abuses and the need for reform – because I’ve lived the consequences. It’s worse than people even think – it’s measured not just in the hours wasted on the Senate floor in filibusters mounted just to run out the clock before 98-2 votes, but the real cost is measured in issues that never get to the Senate floor because then we’re told there’s “no time.” It’s an amazingly cynical strategy to create chaos and gridlock and then blame us for not getting things done or working together!
4.) I’ve talked about the abuses a number of times on the Senate floor and on television, sometimes out of some deep frustration, but in a big speech at the Center for American Progress I talked at length about the dysfunction, you can read it in full here and the always smart and insightful Ezra Klein zoned in on what I had to say there about the polarization:
5.) Here’s what I said specifically in that speech about the filibuster abuses and the cynicism driving them:
“Sometimes, as John Kennedy once said, “party asks too much.” Sometimes, party leaders also ask too much, especially if they exploit the rules of the United States Senate for the sole purpose of denying a President a second term. But that is what we have witnessed the last two years; Republicans nearly unanimous in opposition to almost every proposal by the President and almost every proposal by Democratic colleagues. The extraordinary measure of a filibuster has become an ordinary expedient. Today it’s possible for 41 Senators representing only about one tenth of the American population to bring the Senate to a standstill.
Certainly, I believe the filibuster has its rightful place. I used it to stop drilling for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge because I believed that was in our national interest –and 60 or more Senators should be required to speak up on such an irrevocable decision. But we have reached the point where the filibuster is being invoked by the minority not necessarily because of a difference over policy, but as a political tool to undermine the Presidency.
Consider this: in the entire 19th century, including the struggle against slavery, fewer than two dozen filibusters were mounted. Between 1933 and the coming of World War II, it was attempted only twice. During the Eisenhower administration, twice. During John Kennedy’s presidency, four times– and then eight during Lyndon Johnson’s push for civil rights and voting rights bills. By the time Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, there were about 20 filibusters a year.
But in the 110th Congress of 2007-2008, there were a record 112 cloture votes. And in the 111th Congress, there were 136, one of which even delayed a vote to authorize funding for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps during a time of war. That’s not how the Founders intended the Senate to work– and that’s not how our country can afford the Senate not to work.”
6.) So where do I stand on reforming the filibuster? I have and I will continue to support sensible filibuster reforms. I advocated for and strongly supported a change made by Harry Reid that banned filibusters after a cloture vote. Last year, I supported a Harkin resolution that would permit a decreasing number of Senators to invoke cloture on a given measure. Unfortunately, this resolution failed to pass the Senate, but that fight’s not over. I do think, to maintain a filibuster, we should consider requiring filibustering Senators to continuously speak on the Senate Floor in defense of the principles of the minority. You can’t just phone it in – if it’s that important to you, make a filibuster mean something. And I still believe that there’s a need to ensure accountability and transparency; there’s a reason I supported putting to an end secret holds.
8.) Lastly – thank you to all who have been calling and emailing with some deeply appreciated outrage about the rehashed and repeatedly rebutted, refuted, and disproven smears against my military record and my advocacy for our troops. It means a lot to me that you’ve had my back – please know I will always have yours.