Udall and the filibuster

-A A +A
By Hal Rhodes

Congressional Republicans show all the signs of an unhappy lot.
The huffing and puffing, the chips on shoulders, pouting and hissy fits, all these and more bespeak a collection of men and women loath to do what they were sent to Washington to do.
Better tantrums and filibusters, it would seem, that the difficult tasks of tending to the people’s business.
It must be maddening to work with people like that, especially for anyone interested in getting their work done.
New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall spoke to that frustration last week on the Senate floor when he said, “New Mexicans want a government that works.
The American people want a government that works. And they’re tired of waiting.”
Who can blame them? The Republican reactionaries who control the U.S. House of Representatives sit idly by as those automatic budget cuts, aka, “sequestration,” grind mercilessly down upon the nation.
We’re months into it now and that which passes oxymoronically for “leadership” in the House majority party seems not to care one whit, without so much as pretending to dither.
Because the House can’t pass a budget, New Mexico is poised to lose public defenders, thanks to those automatic budget cuts. The National Park Service has had to furlough employees at national parks and monuments in the state.
Schools and universities are gearing up for the fall semester, but low-income students stand to lose federal assistance and work-study programs to help defray the costs of education, even as interests on student loans skyrocket.
It’s disgraceful.
Two-thirds of the state’s U.S. House delegation would like to see their colleagues knuckle down and deal with the crisis. The other one-third is part of the problem.
But in the Senate last week, cantankerous Republicans got something approximating their just desserts.
From the start of this session of Congress, Senate Republicans have used the filibuster to block confirmation of a whole range of President Obama’s nominees for key administration positions.
In January, at the beginning of this Congress, many Democratic senators, including Udall, mounted a drive to reform the current filibuster rule by requiring a senator who undertakes to filibuster actually to take to the floor and talk.
As it now stands a senator can simply announce his or her intention to “filibuster,” whereupon no less than 60 senators must vote to end the phony-baloney talkathon.
Reform was dodged, however, when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell shook hands with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and pledged that his fellow Republicans would not abuse the filibuster.
That handshake was also phony-baloney.
As Sen. Udall recently observed, Republican “obstruction of executive nominees who are ready to be confirmed by the Senate….is unprecedented.” Come time for the July 4 recess, he continued, “the Senate (had) confirmed only 34 executive nominees. That’s compared to 118 at this point in the (George W. Bush Administration.”
Among those blocked from confirmation by GOP filibusters were the president’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, his nominees to head the EPA, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and prospective appointees for the National Labor Relations Board.
Thus, last week, the reform-the-filibuster drive revived a bit when Reid announced that for certain of those nominations he was prepared to change the filibuster rule to allow Senate confirmation by a simple majority vote.
Senate Republicans folded and agreed to let confirmation votes go forward. But Udall welcomed the news with a certain wait-and-see tone.
“The Senate’s issues with obstruction go further than just presidential nominees,” he noted. “I’m putting my colleagues on notice: If the Senate goes back to business as usual and endless filibustering, I will be back fighting harder than before for reform.”
As well he should.