King wants to end silent Senate filibusters

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As U.S. Senate leaders negotiate about reforming filibustering, which has contributed to partisan gridlock, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said Tuesday he’d support changing filibustering rules with a simple majority vote if it’s the only way.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, disagrees, and wants rules changed only with a supermajority.

“This would set a very troubling precedent,” she said Tuesday. “It would give the majority party, whether Democrat or Republican, unprecedented power to limit debate and block senators from offering amendments.”

Filibustering is when a senator delays action on a bill for as long as he or she wants unless three-fifths of the Senate (60 out of 100 senators) object. Because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has technically extended the first day of the Senate by not adjourning, he can call a vote and change Senate rules with only a 51-vote majority.

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Reid has said he has the votes and will do that if he can’t convince Republicans to come on board to reduce filibustering and not allow it to be done “silently.”

Behind the scenes, Republican senators have emailed or picked up the phone to threaten a filibuster, which then requires a supermajority for anything to proceed. Reformers say “you’ve got to stand up and let the American people know who’s doing the filibustering, and what your case is,” King said.

King said Tuesday that filibuster reformers, including himself, want to bring back the kind of filibustering in Jimmy Stewart’s movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

“It’s old fashioned filibustering, where you and I have to go to the floor and talk,” King said. One of the problems is silent filibustering has become routine in recent years, he said.

Collins also wants senators “to have to go to the Senate floor personally to lodge complaints, rather than be allowed to initiate ‘secret holds’ on legislation,” she said through spokesman Kevin Kelly.

Filibustering has happened too much in recent years, obstructing progress, King said. When Lyndon Johnson was Senate Majority Leader he dealt with one filibuster, King said; in the last six years there have been 391 filibusters.

Collins agreed, but said there’s a reason.

“I have always been troubled by some Republicans’ excessive use of the filibuster on the motion to proceed to even consider a bill. However, the reason the filibuster has been overused is directly in response to Democratic leaders limiting the ability of Republicans to offer amendments,” Collins said.

In addition to “silent” filibustering, it’s done in too many procedural motions, Collins and King said, including allowing a bill on the floor for debate, even sending a bill to a House and Senate conference committee.

“How many bites do you get?” King asked.

Reform is part of the reason King ran for office, he said, because “the Senate is not working.”

But while filibustering should be limited, it should not be eliminated, King said. It still needs to be an option to protect the minority party, as long as “you stand up and talk.”

King said he has talked to senators in both parties, and Republicans defend their filibustering because the majority party has prevented them from offering amendments. So, “any reform has to be a balanced package, it should protect the right to offer a reasonable number of amendments,” he said.

King said he prefers to change filibustering rules with support from Republicans.

“I’d much rather see a negotiated agreement,” he said.

On the other hand, “we’ve got to do something. We can’t keep going the way we’re going.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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