Newspaper article

Mondale on the Filibuster: Mend It, Don't End It

Newspaper article

Mondale on the Filibuster: Mend It, Don't End It

Article excerpt

Minnesota's own Walter Mondale, the star of the last successful change in the Senate filibuster rule, spoke Tuesday at the U of M's Humphrey School about the current effort to change it again.

The use of the filibuster to block or delay Senate votes has skyrocketed over recent years. A group of young reformers have proposed various changes to the filibuster rule. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expressed sympathy for the idea. There's a theory (or a strategy) that while it normally takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate to change a rule, it can be done by a simple majority on the first day of a new session. So, unless Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can work out a deal two avert it, a showdown may occur when the new Senate convenes in January.

Mondale gave an overall downbeat assessment of the state of politics in Washington, of the role of the Senate and of the role of the filibuster, although he wouldn't do away with filibusters entirely.

"We are in a deep crisis," the former senator, vice president and Democratic presidential nominee said. Hyperpartisanship and the inability to compromise across party lines is "paralyzing our country... If you had a child that was acting way, you'd be worried about him and you'd try to do something about it," he said.

The Senate has been left out of the current negotiations over taxes, spending and debt reduction, Mondale said. The negotiations are occurring behind closed doors between Pres. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner with no members of the Senate playing a serious role. It also bothers Mondale that a privately negotiated agreement, if one is worked out, will be presented to the Senate and to the nation on a take-it-or-go-over-the-cliff basis.

Mondale was in the Senate during the days of the civil rights debates, when southern senators used filibusters to block action. He led a group of insurgents -- opposed by their own leadership -- in forcing through a deal that decreased from 67 to 60 the number of votes necessary to cut off debate (called "cloture")and force a vote.

But in his day, Mondale said, the Senate would endure about thee to six filibusters a year. Now, 180 to 190 filibuster petitions are filed annually. Several changes in the filibuster rule have been mentioned including:

* Reduce again the number of votes needed to cut off debate and force a vote. Mondale favors reducing it from 60 to 55, which happens to be the number of votes the Democrats will control in the next Senate. But, he noted, when he testified in Washington this year about filibuster reform, some of his old Senate friends "We gotta be careful. We could be in the minority one day and we'll need these rules on our side."

* Require the filibusterers to keep talking. The old tradition required a senator or group of senators to hold the floor or a filibuster would end. …

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