Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Brian spanks Norm

This op-ed piece was in the Rochester Post-Bulletin yesterday. Spot isn't sure how long it will be available, so he's going to rip the whole thing off:

This week, Sen. Norm Coleman defended his support for Republican filibusters -- not only for the recent filibuster against the Levin-Reed amendment, which would have set a timeline for withdrawing American troops from the Iraqi civil war, but for the numerous Republican filibusters throughout the current Democratic-led Congress.

He also defended his recent conversion, since he once said that "I have never supported a filibuster, no matter how controversial the issue." Sen. Coleman offered various arguments based on Senate rules and, more importantly, the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, he twisted those rules and the Constitution in the process. Let's compare Sen. Coleman's arguments to what the Constitution and Senate rules actually say.

According to the Senate Web site, a filibuster is "any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions."

The filibuster grew out of an important tradition in the United States Senate, that a senator can address the Senate on any topic, for as long as he or she wants to talk. If a senator has something to say, nobody -- not a judge, not a president, not even the other senators -- can stop him or her from saying it.

Of course, the filibuster can be abused. And it was. So the Senate adopted a rule in 1917 allowing cloture, by which a two-thirds vote can stop a filibuster and let the Senate get on with its work. The two-thirds was later lowered to three-fifths.

Which brings me to Sen. Coleman's first distortion: that the "Senate requires a bipartisan supermajority to pass legislation." Senate rules say no such thing. Many bills pass by a simple majority -- that is, the "yeas" outnumber the "nays," sometimes by a single vote -- sometimes with bipartisan support, sometimes without. The Constitution spells out exactly seven cases when a simple majority is not enough, and none involve passing legislation.

The idea that passing legislation takes a "bipartisan supermajority" is phony. If it were true, then every piece of legislation in the Senate would take 60 votes and Republicans could, and would, filibuster anything and everything that they disagree with.

Historically, the filibuster has been reserved for matters so grave that a senator was willing to shut down the Senate. The Republicans are trying to turn it into a routine device that applies to any legislation that they oppose -- basically, they are willing to shut down the Senate whenever they are outnumbered, even though they lost the last election. That's not how democracy works.

Sen. Coleman also defends his own change of heart about filibustering. Now he claims that he opposed filibustering only against judicial nominations because, he writes, "the United States Constitution specifically prohibited requiring a super majority (60 votes) on judges." The Constitution says no such thing. The constitutional rules for confirming a nomination, judicial or otherwise, are exactly the same as the rules for passing legislation. They all take a simple majority and the Constitution makes no procedural distinction among them.

Finally, Sen. Coleman argues that the Democrats are abusing cloture by filing too many cloture petitions. But the problem isn't that the Democrats are abusing cloture, since cloture is the only way of bringing filibustered legislation to an up-or-down vote where the people's elected representatives can work the people's will. Cloture isn't the problem. The problem is that Republicans are abusing the filibuster, using it to block even routine legislation, and cloture is the only remedy available.

Misrepresenting the facts is bad enough. But misrepresenting the Constitution itself is just plain wrong. After all, we could just look it up.

Brian Melendez is the chair of the Minnesota DFL Party.

Spot says the Constitution is probably hard reading for the senator. Norm undoubtedly gets his constitutional instruction from Mitch McConnell and Trent Lott.

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