JONATHAN CHAIT JANUARY 4, 2011
Lamar Alexander is a Senator who very much wants to be taken seriously, but his speech in defense of the filibuster delivered at the Heritage Foundation today proves merely why he shouldn't be. Here is how Alexander sets up his argument:
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. ...
[O]n December 18, every returning Democratic senator sent Senator Reid a letter asking him to “take steps to bring [Republican] abuses of our rules to an end.”
When the United States Senate convenes tomorrow, some have threatened to try to change the rules so it would be easier to do with every piece of legislation what they did with the health care bill: ram it through on a partisan vote, with little debate, amendment, or committee consideration, and without listening to minority voices.
This is totally false. The Democratic plan is simply designed to force the minority party to conduct an actual filibuster, rather than scotch appointments or bills without debate:
Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, said that he intended to call for new limits on filibusters that would require senators to be on the floor if they seek to derail legislation. ...
“One of our main focuses is making people stand up and explain to the American people why they are filibustering,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who has been working with Mr. Udall to develop changes in the way the Senate operates. ...
Besides forcing senators to take the floor to defend their filibusters, Democrats also want to make it harder to stonewall the initial effort to bring a measure to the floor, a step known as the “motion to proceed.” They also want to ban the ability of senators to place an anonymous “hold” on a bill or nomination.
There is nothing here about limiting debate. The proposal is to require debate, rather to to allow the minority to kill legislation with no debate at all. Alexander's entire argument proceeds from this hilariously false premise:
The difference is that, when he gave his speech, there was nobody to tap him on the shoulder and inform him that his entire understanding of the issue was incorrect. It's simply embarrassing.