An Open Letter to Harry Reid

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)

Dear Senator Reid, or more precisely, Dear Senate Majority Leader Reid,

Since this is an open letter I will, by necessity, include several definitions and explanations of Senate rules. There are many arcane procedures used by the Senate that complicates our understanding of how things get done or more importantly how things don’t get done in the Senate.

The filibuster is among the most misunderstood of the Senate procedures due to the modern changes in Senate rules regarding the filibuster. Unlike the prior Senate rules (before 1975) a filibuster required a senator to get up and talk until all had had enough (we all remember Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”), the current rules allow a filibustering party of 41 Senators to announce an intent to filibuster and delay voting on a bill without actually getting up and stopping proceedings by holding the floor endlessly. Discussion and voting on the measure being filibustered stops while other Senate business continues. A “Pseudo-Filibuster”! It takes 60 Senators to impose cloture; an end to the filibuster (that hasn’t actually happened) and then discussion on the bill can resume. Since it is difficult and rare to get 60 senators to concur, cloture usually cannot be reached and that particular measure would effectively be finished for the session.

After the Democrats obtained a (slim) majority in the Senate in the 2006 elections, the Republicans of the 110th Congress (2007-2008) filibustered more times than any Senate session in American history – more than 90 times. They have turned a seldom used and extreme measure into a regular political tactic. With that they have become what they used to condemn the Democrats of being – obstructionist. Most Americans don’t know that the Republicans held up so much Senate business with their pseudo-filibusters. The mainstream media did not report that the Republicans were obstructing the proceedings. Consequently, the public just assumed that the Democrats were simply incapable of accomplishing any meaningful legislation in the Senate. We have often heard the phrase “do-nothing Senate” to describe the 110th congress.

However, Senate rules allow the Senate Majority Leader to insist that the parties actually get up and speak as in an old-fashioned filibuster. This, Senator Reid, you have never done. And there lies the problem.
Things should be a bit different now that the Democrats have a larger majority in the House and Senate (although not a filibuster-proof majority) and we have a Democratic president. Now the Republicans are complaining of the Democrats’ and Obama’s lack of bipartisanship. To listen to the Republicans grumble about a lack of bipartisanship is almost laughable.

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When they had the power in Congress and the White House, they had no time or use for bipartisanship. In fact, the Congressional Republicans treated the Democrats with absolute disdain and total disrespect. They certainly did not put a polite moderate like you in charge. They chose Senator Bill Frist as their Majority Leader – among the most partisan and caustic Senate leader in history. When they ran the Senate they actually threatened to change the filibuster rules to prevent Democrats from filibustering. They called it the “Nuclear Option”.

Senator Reid, your lack of engagement against the Republicans has made you look weak and by extension you have made all Democrats look weak. You have the power to make the Republicans flinch. When they threaten to filibuster, make them get up and speak for days on end. Expose them for the selfish, power-hungry corporatists they are. To paraphrase Senator John McCain, make them famous so that people know their names – and their deeds.

Democrats should never appear weak to the other side. Democrats are not weak – we have the better arguments, we have the better proposals, we have the better ideas and the better leaders to fix this country. Senator Reid, you can and should make us proud of the accomplishments the Democratically controlled Senate can achieve. Now, more than ever, we need courageous and resolute leadership. We’re counting on you.

Eric Ekstrand,
Eagle Rock, CA

Published by the LA Progressive on February 3, 2009
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