Bill Moyers Essay: Take Action on Filibuster Reform

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The politics of the filibuster were on vivid display Thursday when Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.

When a political party’s in the majority, it wants to change the filibuster… until it falls from power and winds up the minority. Then it suddenly becomes the filibuster’s biggest supporter.Bill says such hypocrisy “has cost the Congress its standing in public respect and cost our democracy the capacity to address the problems that threaten to overwhelm us.”

But hope of resurrecting the Senate’s noble purpose by reforming the filibuster is being championed by a diverse group of organizations and activists, including The Democratic Initiative and Fix the Senate Now. They want to take the filibuster, which can now be easily and quietly activated, and restore its original, public use (Think Mr. Smith or Mr. Sanders). Time is not on their side, however. Unless the Senate reforms the filibuster at the beginning of the new 113th Congress — that’s as soon as next Tuesday, January 22 — the minority wrecking crew remains in charge for the next two years.

See four suggestions below to make your opinion loud and clear. Learn even more by watching Bill’s conversation with union leader Larry Cohen this weekend.

As Bill says, “End the silence. Speak up now. But do it quickly — the clock’s ticking.”

A Filibuster Reform To-Do List:

1. Contact your senator to tell him or her that you support filibuster reform and the end of the silent filibuster. Calling 1-888-717-0911 will connect you automatically based on where you call from. You can also find Senate contact information here. Or call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (202-224-3542) or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ( 202-224-2541) directly, and tell them where you stand.

2. Share graphics on your Facebook timeline letting your friends know that you support filibuster reform. Download graphics made by Fix the Senate Now at their website.

3. Follow #FixtheSenate tweets and send your own tweet with your position on the issue. Also, tweet any interactions or contact efforts you had with senators.

4. Link to or embed Fix the Senate Now’s YouTube video.

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  • Professor Smartass

    I disagree strongly with the intro: the problem isn’t the same for both parties. Republicans are clearly using the filibuster too much, but when Democrats were in the minority during the Bush years, they failed to use it effectively at all and barely ever even tried even when their constituents were howling for them to do so.

    Even if they actually reform the filibuster this time, Congress will figure out a new way to make it seem incredibly difficult to do anything that benefits the average American while still doing the bidding of the rich at bipartisan light speed.

  • Richard

    Seriously?I got a flat tire the other day.At that moment I decided.What’s the point?I’ll just get another flat.So I left my car beside the road and someone else can haul it off.Or maybe it will sit there until the windows are smashed and the tires go flat.

  • Worden Report

    In at the Worden Report, I argue that whether the filibuster protects residual state sovereignty or is merely a partisan obstructionist ploy is decisive in whether the device should be allowed to continue. If the latter, the procedural device should be expunged from the U.S. Senate. See http://thewordenreport.blogspo

  • Jha-chi

    Thank You Bill!!

    We need a return to real debate and authentic procedure in
    Congress. We deserve to have our representatives not twist and
    abuse the process so badly, for so long, that no one living even remembers
    what the true spirit of American Democracy is….

  • PeaceMan

    I think the clock has run out. January 22 is nothing except the day after the inauguration. The 113th Congress started on Jan 3, 2013 at noon and the new administration starts at noon on Jan 20, 2013. (Constitution, Amendment XX, Sections 1 and 2.

  • Anonymous

    The Senate is still in its first day… until midnight on Jan. 22.

  • Sven Johannson

    your a minority for a reason.. elections have consequences .. for both parties so say goodbye to this way of minority rule, and let the elections speak for themselves …

  • Patte

    this is of course only one part of the overall problem with the system. another huge part is the republican vow to obstruct anything and everything, holding the whole government hostage. but this change can create momentum that can continue–small ripples can and do continue. call harry reid or mitch mcconnell. leave a message. do it now.

  • RogerD

    Unless they recess again. Senate rules are bizarre. Could go all year without adjourning. (At least, I don’t know why they couldn’t)

  • Charles Andrews

    I am disappointed that Mr. Moyer did not push Larry Cohen on the issue of abuse of power by the majority leader of the Senate. Bills passed by the House are never brought to the floor for discussion and vote simply at the whim of Harry Reid. This has included four budgets. Mr. Reid has failed to have the Senate even discuss the budget. Is it any wonder that spending spirals out of control when the country has no fiscal limits set. There is only one man to blame for this, Harry Reid.

    Mr. Cohen was disengenuous when he said he would favor this if the Republicans controlled the Senate. Where was his voice when the Democrats used the same tactics when the Republicans were in the majority.

  • Charles Andrews

    True election do have consequences, hence bills passed by the House should be taken up by the Senate, not sequestered. The Democrats hands are no cleaner than the Rupublicans. The fillibuster rule needs to be reformed but only in conjunction with reforming the procedural rules to madate the Senate deliberate bills passed by the House in a timely manner. One person, the Senate majority leader, should not have the power to nullify bills passed by the House.

    Perhaps all this could be solved by term limits and the demise of the professional office holder.

  • Sven Johannson

    one person one vote ? meaning the Senate Majority Leader ? he needs 51 votes, and that my friend is a majority, and we need to put the fili back in the filibuster, whoever it is they need to speak up and show their convictions in public and be held accountable by the voters for that position.. and as for Term Limits.. if you do that the only ones with Institutional memory are the Lobbyist ? and no one can believe that to be a good idea .. or I for one hope no one with common sense.. elections and actions have consequences.

  • Sven Johannson

    I think I understand your position now , by one man you mean that Harry Reid can bring or not bring things up to the floor of the Senate.. I see your delimna so If Mr McConnel says to Mr Reid you bring that up and we will filibuster that faster than u can say Buster .. buster, this is One person ? Math isn’t my forte but 1+1 is 2, the Filibuster has to change, they way it’s being used now is the minority rules and that is many things but it’s not a democracy ! change the filibuster change the filibuster now Harry ..

  • sally

    Surely, the Senate can be fixed so that confirmation of presidential nominees can be voted up or down quickly. Certainly, those who wish to block legislation should speak openly on the floor about their concerns, rather than phone in their Nay vote. And, why can’t the Majority Leader bring bills to the floor with a simple majority? Those opposed to the bills can vote no, but let us at least hear the arguments.

  • Dianne

    Everyone should call 1-888-717-0911 BEFORE TOMARROW, JAN. 22 to support reforming the filibuster and ending the silent filibuster, which blocks things getting done in senate.

  • Raul from Brklyn, NY

    Thank you Mr. Moyers:

    You serve our country patriotically and remarkably. Your program is a breeze of fresh unpolluted air for those who still have some hope on democracy. I still hope! Something very hard for a retired hispanic on social security.

  • nancy stein

    you repubs have no shame. You took 2.7 trillion out of social security and spent it on your cronies – halliburton, the military, and paris for lunch, to name a few. And now you want to pin the deficit on the people we have elected to fix the mess you made. excuse me, sir, but pay back the loans you owe social security – and then we’ll talk.

  • Frank

    Your a Moron Bill – You must be a gun grabbing commie. This is part of our political process that keeps the checks and balance. Its funny you want reform when they want to destroy our Bill of Rights and our Constitutional Liberties. You gun control commie!

  • Margaret Rose de Cruz

    There was no room on answering machine of Harry Reid over the weekend. I’ve experienced this in the past w other Congress people’s phone systems…This is ridiculously archaic in our high tech world, and prevents democratic process. Congress needs to fix this immediately.

  • phyllis koenig

    PLEASE BILL – DO something about this!! Harry Reid will wimp out and sell the public to the wolves just to leave his legend. What GOOD is fillibuster reform if we don’t FORCE those initiating it to STAND ON THE FLOOR AND READ FROM VOGUE MAGAZINE. OR WORSE YET, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. What’s the POINT to do partial reform? Makes NO sense to me!!!

  • Valerie

    Until I saw this essay I had no idea that debate was no longer taking place in the Senate; I knew the legislature had become ineffective, but not that rules allowed blocking with no discussion on the floor. That means the body has become effete, leaving us without our views represented in the legislature. I put a message through to Senator Reid and Senator Schumer. Unfortunately, calling Senator (Gillibrand) at the above toll-free number, no one answered before I gave up at 25 rings.

  • Alyosha

    Filibuster MUST be restored to its pre-1975 status. The graphics at Fix the Senate Now are not helpful – if you don’t know terminology and procedure, you won’t understand the message.

  • Dulaney Ward

    It’s way past time to get rid of the filibuster entirtely, or limit it to something like two days of talking, and then cut it off by majority vote.

  • Alyosha

    Apologies – back again. I know this isn’t recent news. But why isn’t it unconstitutional for the legislative branch to limit its own powers to debate issues?

  • Michael Pokrivnak

    They all are to blame they are not doing the job we pay them to do. Govern is what they are supposed to do not sit on their hands and block block block.

  • Level Headed

    No more pay for impeding progress. The filibuster must end.

  • Bookthief

    Great… Reid failed us again.

  • Carol Wright

    BIG FAIL ON THIS. What can we do now?

  • Phil Johnson

    Well. I see that all efforts to amend the rules to speed up legislative action went for naught. I am writing this to express disappointment in Harry Reid’s condoning a desertion of this goal and to castigate the Democratic senators who cravenly went along with the fears of losing their respective seats in 2014. Now we are condemned to witness more somnolent and useless activity at work. Business as usual. I am really crushed by this.

    When will we, the people, be able to trust those who we thought had our best interests at heart?

  • Nancy Nordyke-Shelley

    Thanks for being a trusted source of information.

  • Anonymous

    President Obama’s nominees are getting through so some agreement was reached that is still working after so long of the party of no blocking everyone and everything.