Mr. HARKIN (for himself, Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Pell, and Mr. Robb) proposed an amendment to the resolution (S. Res. 14) amending paragraph 2 of Rule XXV; as follows:
At the appropriate place, insert the following:
SEC. XX. SENATE CLOTURE PROVISION.
Paragraph 2 of rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate is amended to read as follows:
`2. (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of rule II or rule IV or any other rule of the Senate, at any time a motion signed by sixteen Senators, to bring to a close the debate upon any measure, motion, other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, is presented to the Senate, the Presiding Officer, or clerk at the direction of the Presiding Officer, shall at once state the motion to the Senate, and one hour after the Senate meets on the following calendar day but one, he shall lay the motion before the Senate and direct that the clerk call the roll, and upon the ascertainment that a quorum is present, the Presiding Officer shall, without debate, submit to the Senate by a yea-and-nay vote the question: `Is it the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close?' And if that question shall be decided in the affirmative by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn--except on a measure or motion to amend the Senate rules, in which case the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting--then said measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, shall be the unfinished business to the exclusion of all other business until disposed of.
`(b)(1) If, upon a vote taken on a motion presented pursuant to subparagraph (a), the Senate fails to invoke cloture with respect to a measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, subsequent motions to bring debate to a close may be made with respect to the same measure, motion, matter, or unfinished business. It shall not be in order to file subsequent cloture motions on any measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, except by unanimous consent, until the previous motion has been disposed of.
`(2) Such subsequent motions shall be made in the manner provided by, and subject to the provisions of, subparagraph (a), except that the affirmative vote required to bring to a close debate upon that measure, motion, or other matter, or unfinished business (other than a measure or motion to amend Senate rules) shall be reduced by three votes on the second such motion, and by three additional votes on each succeeding motion, until the affirmative vote is reduced to a number equal to or less than an affirmative vote of a majority of the Senators duly chosen and sworn. The required vote shall then be an affirmative vote of a majority of the Senators duly chosen and sworn. The requirement of an affirmative vote of a majority of the Senators duly chosen and sworn shall not be further reduced upon any vote taken on any later motion made pursuant to this subparagraph with respect to that measure, motion, matter, or unfinished business.'
Perhaps David Waldman (Kagro X) or some other parliamentary expert can chime in, but I believe the mechanism Lieberman was employing would have been able to alter the filibuster on a simple majority vote - he was trying to amend the Senate resolution that sets the rules for the Senate for that Congress. This seems to be another way to circumvent the 2/3 majority needed to change the rules.
AMENDING PARAGRAPH 2 OF RULE XXV (Senate - January 04, 1995)
Mr. LIEBERMAN addressed the Chair.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut.
Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, thank you.
I am very proud to join with my colleague from Iowa in cosponsoring and supporting this amendment. A new day has dawned here on Capitol Hill today. A new majority has come to power; but, hopefully, more than a new majority--a new sense of responsiveness to the public, a new understanding of what it means to do the public's business here in Congress, and a new openness to looking at some parts of the operation in Congress which we have previously either not questioned or felt it was inappropriate to question.
I must say that over the last couple of years, as I watched the filibuster being used and, I think, in my respectful opinion, ultimately misused and overused, it seems to me that what had originally appeared to be a reasonable idea was being put to very unreasonable use.
Therefore, I promised myself that if I was fortunate enough to be reelected by the people of Connecticut to return for the 104th Congress, I would do what I could to try to change this filibuster rule, which I am afraid has come to be a means of frustrating the will of a majority to do the public's business and respond to the public's needs. And so when I heard that Senator Harkin had put this program and plan together, I called him and I said, `My distinguished colleague and friend, I admire you for what you are doing.' There are those who undoubtedly will think this is a quixotic effort, that it is a kind of romantic but unfeasible effort.
It is important now to make this effort to show that we have heard the message and that we are prepared to not only shake up the Federal Government but shake up the Congress. And not just for the sake of shaking it up, but because of a fundamental principle that is basic to our democracy, that is deep into the deliberations of the Framers of our Constitution and appears throughout the Federalist Papers, which is rule of the majority in the legislative body. It is this majority rule has been frustrated by the existing filibuster rule. So I am privileged to join as a cosponsor with my colleague from Iowa in this effort.
Mr. President, whenever I explain to my constituents at home in Connecticut that a minority of Senators can by a mere threat of a filibuster--not even by the continuous debate, but by a mere threat of a filibuster--kill a bill on the Senate floor, they are incredulous. When I tell them that now as a matter of course a Senator needs to obtain 60 votes in order to pass a bill to which there is opposition, frankly, the folks back home are suspicious.
When I explain how often the threat of a filibuster has been used to tie the Senate in knots and kill legislation that is actually favored by a majority of Senators--and the filibuster was used more times last year than in the first 108 years of the Senate combined--well, the folks back home honestly think I am exaggerating. Unfortunately, I am not. Those are the facts.
Mr. President, when I entered the Senate 6 years ago, I asked to be briefed by a staff person at the Congressional Research Service on the Senate rules. I wanted to figure out how the place worked.
I must say, after that briefing, I, like my constituents, was incredulous. I had been the majority leader of the Connecticut State Senate, so I had some familiarity with parliamentary procedures, but I must say I did not understand how the Senate's debate and amendment rules were being used to keep the Senate, presumably the greatest deliberative body in the world, from getting things done.
Like many Americans of my generation, I remembered the dramatic filibuster battles of the 1950's and 1960's and assumed that filibusters were relatively uncommon and were employed only in the great issues of the time which divided a country. I assumed--like most Americans, I would guess, drawing from probably the broadest experience America has had with filibusters, which is mainly `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' when James Stewart stood in that magnificent portrayal and carried out a principled filibuster --that filibusters were to be reserved for only the most significant of legislative battles.
While I quickly learned that while real filibusters are uncommon, current Senate rules allow the mere threat of a filibuster to rule the way we do or do not do business.
The gentleman from the Congressional Research Service used a powerful analogy here. He said to me, `Senator, you have to think of the Senate as if it were composed of 100 nations, each Senator representing a nation, and each nation has an atomic bomb and can blow up the place any time it wants. And that bomb is a filibuster.'
That may make us feel good about our power and our authority, but it is not the way to run the greatest deliberative body in the world. In fact, I state this with some humility because I do not remember the exact quote, I asked the gentleman from the Congressional Research Service, `Is there any precedent for this kind of procedure in the history of legislative bodies?'
He said he thought the closest modern precedent was a Senate that sat in Poland in the 18th century which, because of unique historical circumstances that are not to the point, with approximately 700 members, the rule was that nothing could be done without unanimous consent. That, I hope, is not the model that we aspire to copy here.
What was once an extraordinary remedy, used only in the rarest of instances, has unfortunately become a commonplace tactic to thwart the will of the majority. Just as insidiously, allowing legislation to be killed on procedural votes, as we so often have here in the Senate, protects us from having to confront the hard choices that we were sent here to make and, in that sense, makes us a less accountable body.
Mr. President, this has to end and it will not end unless an effort begins to end it as we are attempting to do here today. As I believe Senator Harkin has indicated, the Senate filibuster rule has actually been changed five times in this century. In most cases, particularly when the changes were substantial, they did not occur the first time the proponents charged the fortress. Perhaps they will not occur on this occasion. But I know Senator Harkin and I are prepared to keep fighting until this change occurs because of what is on the line, which is the credibility and the productivity of the U.S. Senate.
The change that we are proposing, as Senator Harkin has indicated, will make it more difficult for a minority of Senators to absolutely stop, to block, to kill Senate action on legislation favored by a majority of the Senate, but it will still protect the ability of that minority to be heard before up or down majority votes on legislation are taken. It will give the minority opposed to what the majority wants to do the opportunity to educate and arouse the public as to what may be happening here to give the public the opportunity perhaps to change the inclination of the majority.
The procedure of succeeding votes with 2-day intervals, 60 being required, first 57, 54 and finally a simple majority of Senators being able to work its will--our intent here is to give the minority a chance to make their case and to persuade others but not to continue to grant them an effective veto power which they now enjoy.
We recognize that the opposition to this proposal is bipartisan, just as the use of the filibuster rule has been bipartisan. We also understand that as Members of the new minority, Senator Harkin and I perhaps are not the likeliest people to be proposing to limit the powers of the new Democratic minority, but we both firmly believe that regardless of how our resolution may limit our personal options as Members of the minority party in the Senate in the short-term, it is essential that this reform be undertaken now when the problem of filibuster-created gridlock is so fresh in all of our minds.
For too long, we have accepted the premise that the filibuster rule is immune. Yet, Mr. President, there is no constitutional basis for it. We impose it on ourselves. And if I may say so respectfully, it is, in its way, inconsistent with the Constitution, one might almost say an amendment of the Constitution by rule of the U.S. Senate.
The Framers of the Constitution, this great fundamental, organic American document considered on which kinds of votes, on which issues the will of the majority would not be enough, that a vote of more than a majority would be required, and the Constitution has spelled those instances out quite clearly. Only five areas: Ratification of a treaty requires more than a majority of the Senate; override by the Senate of a Presidential veto requires more than a majority; a vote of impeachment requires more than a majority; passage of a constitutional amendment requires more than a majority; and the expulsion of a Member of Congress requires more than a majority.
The Framers actually considered the wisdom of requiring supermajorities for other matters and rejected them.
So it seems to me to be inconsistent with the Constitution that this body, by its rules, has essentially amended the Constitution to require 60 votes to pass any issue on which Members choose to filibuster or threaten to filibuster.
The Framers, I think, understood--more than understood--expressed through the Constitution and their deliberations and their writings, that the Congress was to be a body in which the majority would rule.
I know that some of our colleagues will oppose the alteration, the amendment, that Senator Harkin and I are proposing on the grounds the filibuster is a very special prerogative that is necessary to protect the rights of a minority. But in doing so, and I say this respectfully, I believe they are not being true to the intention of the Framers of the Constitution, which is that the Congress was the institution in which the majority was to rule, not to be effectively tyrannized by a minority. And the Framers, Madison and the others, who thought so deeply and created this extraordinary instrument that has guided our country for more than 200 years now, developed the system in which the rights of the minority were to be protected by the republican form of government, by the checks and balances inherent in our Government and ultimately by the courts applying the great principles of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, to protect the rights of a minority that might be infringed by a wayward majority.
So this procedure that has grown up over the years has turned the intention of the Framers, in my opinion, on its head, and in doing so has not only created gridlock but has given power to a minority as against the will of the majority. The majority in the Senate, as reflecting the majority of the people of the United States, has allowed that minority to frustrate the will of the majority improperly.
So I think this is at the heart of the change for which the people have cried out. It is right, and it is fair. It is our belief in that most fundamental of democratic principles, majority rule, that motivates our introduction of this amendment. I am confident that if we ever put this issue, or could put this issue, before the American people for a vote, they would direct us to end the current filibuster practice. Majority rule is not and should not be a controversial proposition. Minority rights are protected by the checks and balances in our system.
Mr. President, it is my pleasure as a Senator from Connecticut to welcome the occupant of the chair as a new Member of the Senate. Perhaps you have observed from your viewing of the Senate before you arrived here that our problem seems not to have been that things move through this institution too quickly, that we hastily trample upon the rights of the minority. The problem, if anything--and it is not a bad problem and it does carry out the intention and will of the Framers--is that there are a lot of checks and balances here, and it is often hard to do the people's business and respond to the people's needs, and the filibuster has made it even harder to do so.
So I thank the Chair and the Senate for their indulgence. I congratulate again my colleague from Iowa for initiating this forthright and, in its way, courageous attempt to change the status quo, and I urge my colleagues to support the amendment.
Jan 4, 1995. (59.) 141 CONG, REC. 38 (1995) (statement of Sen. Lieberman)