A few quick thoughts on filibuster reform

Welcome back, Senator Kerry! [David] Bumped. - promoted by Bob_Neer

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.

7.)  So, some thoughts for a Friday – keep the discussion going – grab me and David Wade on Twitter: @johnkerry and @davideckelswade

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.



Discuss

8 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I appreciate Senator Kerry’s thoughtful response. I think he’s doing the right thing, and I think his important contribution belongs on the front page.

    As an aside, I would like to encourage Senator Kerry to finish his term as our senior senator. I believe he would be a great Secretary of State, and I also believe that his departure from the Senate would cause far more harm to America than any benefits we might accrue from that change.

    Senator Kerry, we need your strong, reasonable, and principled voice in the Senate. Please — just say “no”.

    • I agree on both points

      Senator Kerry, I’ve been supporting you for years, and while I’m sure you’d be a fantastic Secretary of State, I like you best right where you are. Thank you for supporting filibuster reform, please whip the rest of the caucus, we need 51 votes come January.

  2. Let us be clear about what we are reforming...

    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

    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.

    … we’re not seeking just to reform the filibuster but also to reform the minority party role. What does that mean? Right now, as Norm Ornstein pointed out in a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, all the minority has to do is to threaten a filibuster and the onus then shifts to the majority to get and/or keep sixty votes on the floor of the Senate to prevent. Why not reform such that the onus shifts to making the minority produce 40 votes to continue? It might seem like a small thing, but I do not think that is all that small a shift. Indeed there is no cost to mounting a filibuster but all the cost is associated with defeating one. Make it expensive to do so and it will only be used when, and only when, it is felt to be absolutely necessary.

    Also, I’m given to understand that the original filibuster was, in effect, de-fanged by the manner in which legislation was moved through the chamber. Rule changes in 1975, regarding how legislation tracked through, had the effect of limiting the scope of the filibuster: prior to these changes a filibuster was guaranteed to stop ANY and ALL business in the Senate (this is the model of filibuster popularly known through such movies as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”); after 1975 a filibuster, either threatened or real, was merely a rather passive aggressive means of getting legislation tabled after which the Senate would take up other business. So maybe we just go back to the more potent form of filibuster where all business stops and everybody with pending legislation before the Senate feels some amount of pain. As it is now, the filibuster is just an annoyance and mounting one has no cost associated with it whatsoever. That is what needs to be reformed.

    I know the Hon Sen. Kerry is a busy man, but I’d like to get his thoughts on the above.

  3. I'm tired of electioneering

    but when the President calls, you answer. If President Obama asks you to be Secretary, I hope you’ll accept, even though it means two more elections in which I’ll be knocking on doors, calling friends and neighbors, and otherwise turning out the vote.

    And yes, please do work to reform the filibuster.

  4. Thank you

    Thank you, Senator Kerry, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us not just on the filibuster issue but also on the election that just happened in which so many of us, myself included, worked very hard and the results of which we are extremely proud. Thank you especially for your strong support of Elizabeth Warren during the campaign.

    Knowing now how strongly you feel about abuse of the filibuster, it sounds like you may be able to (hopefully) convince some of your more on the fence colleagues!

    Lastly, while I would tend to strongly agree with those up thread who’ve encouraged you to stay in the Senate — as we need your experience and seniority to advocate on behalf of Massachusetts’ needs — obviously the decision is yours and if we need to run another statewide race against Scott Brown, well, we’ve had practice to say the least and we will get it done.

  5. Nice Message

    It’s good to hear from you, Senator Kerry.

    And, it’s great to hear that you support filibuster reform.

    Please be sure to sign the petition.

    http://www.reformthefilibuster.com/warren/

  6. Definitely need this fillibuster reform but please speak out for tax reform too

    I also want to ask you to enthusiastically support that the tax rate for dividends and carried interest be reported as earned income. It’s absolutely absurd on its face that it is taxed at 15%. The argument that this is a double tax is farfetched in today’s world, since corporations are people too. The corporate tax is the tax on the corporate person.
    The dividends tax is the tax on dividend income earned by the investor. It’s only fair the tax should be paid the same as for wage earners. Another infuriating detail of our tax code is the carried interest tax rate of 15% for the earned income of investment firm employees . How they ever managed to sneak that one in somewhere is beyond me. So what this carried interest tax rate says to the world is that investment employees are more valuable to us than any other employee in America. So wrong. We need to level the playing field. I have a feeling that many of our leaders in congress benefit greatly from the 15% dividend tax rate. However, you are there to make decision to represent the people of this country, most of whom do not trade in the stock market as a source of income during their wage earning years. In any case, those who do trade a small amount for added income will still be protected under the marginal tax rates for wages. This will end, however, the ridiculous bonus to millionaires and billionaires who have so much of their money invested in the stock market, making a ton more from it, and then paying less than wage earners do on the same amount of earned income. What I don’t want to see is a bunch of Mitt Romneys in our Senate and House protecting their own tax rates. Please, please, please, support the workers of this country. End the tax favors for wall street investors and wall street employees.

  7. Alert! Danger Will Robinson

    I’m seeing mixed messages. I interpret Senator Kerry’s diatribe above as supporting the proposed filibuster reforms being discussed right now. And yet, I read in The Hill that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) … [is] undecided but are leaning toward triggering the constitutional option.

    Senator Kerry: will you or won’t you? How do I square

    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.

    with “leaning”?

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Fri 19 Sep 7:46 AM