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Udall pushes reform of Senate rules

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By Hal Rhodes

Kudos to Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) who has put his intellect and energy behind the push to reform, at long last, the archaic rules of the United States Senate.

As matters stand, a minority of U.S. senators (41 to be exact) has the ability to block a majority of their colleagues (59) from so much as debating a legislative proposal. We’re not talking here about enacting legislation. We’re talking about debating a measure — weighing the pros and cons ­— before a bill even goes to the Senate floor for a vote.

It is a rule that fosters obstructionism by an unbending Senate minority, even as it obliterates any semblance of majority rule. The filibuster, it’s called, and it has been abused by the Republican minority in this Senate more than at any time in recent history.

Just last week, efforts to debate legislative proposals to strengthen regulatory oversight of Wall Street came to naught because 41 Republicans threatened a filibuster if such a debate were attempted. Actually, they didn’t even have to filibuster — that is, talk endlessly — all they had to do was threaten a filibuster.

Afterward a flabbergasted Udall said, “Despite our near economic collapse and billions of taxpayer dollars it took to bail out Wall Street, not a single Republican tonight voted to debate or amend a bill to hold them accountable.”

 Think upon it. Senate Republicans chose obstruction almost as an end in itself rather than permit debate and amendments to proposals designed to institute reforms sufficient to prevent “reckless gambling and greed on Wall Street,” in Udall’s words, from producing future economic breakdowns.

Someday Republicans will hold the Senate majority and when they do, Democrats will surely remember the GOP’s cynical abuse of the filibuster during this Congress. On Capitol Hill, what goes around comes around.

Which is why any half-way concerned American should wish success for efforts to reform the filibuster and other rules that currently subvert the work of the Senate and the nation.

Udall is a member of the critical Senate Rules Committee, where much of the action will be centered as reform measures are considered. The committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has already held hearings on reforms at which experts gave testimony, and other hearings are expected in coming weeks.

Under existing rules, when a new Congress convenes, existing Senate rules are carried over from the previous Congress to the next, year after year. And that, says Udall, is contrary to the constitutional principle under which a sitting Legislature cannot be bound by the rules and orders of legislatures preceding it. Each legislature must be at liberty to make its own rules.

Even before the recent Rules Committee hearing, Udall had introduced legislation allowing each new Senate to adopt its own rules by simple majority vote.

As he put it, “There are many great traditions in this body that should be kept and respected, but stubbornly clinging to ineffective and unproductive procedures should not be one of them.”

Amen, says this onlooker.

There are other equally ineffective and unproductive Senate rules in need of reform. None more so than the rule permitting a single U.S. senator to block Senate confirmation of persons nominated by the president for top posts in executive departments, agencies and the federal judiciary.

As of last week, Republican senators were blocking confirmation of fully 87 of President Obama’s nominees ­— an historic high at this stage in any president’s tenure in office.

It is shameful and those who think otherwise should be ashamed of themselves. The People’s business hangs in the balance.             

Oh, and after three lockstep Republican votes to filibuster, a whirlwind series of campaign-style stump speeches by the President rallying the grassroots in support of Wall Street reforms, GOP senators  caved and allowed debate on the measure.

© 2010 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES