Researcher doubts significant changes ahead for filibuster reform

Wed, 01/23/2013

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Megan Schmidt
KU News Service
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LAWRENCE — With the U.S. Senate still poised to take action on filibuster reform this week, some experts remain skeptical on whether politicians will strike a deal that includes significant changes.

The filibuster serves as a minority party delay tactic to stall voting on legislation that party doesn’t support, then requiring 60 votes to invoke cloture — in other words, end the debate.

Many Senate Republicans oppose drastic reform measures, while Democratic proponents say the right to filibuster has been abused.

“If you’re in the minority (party), you’re probably a pretty big fan of filibuster,” University of Kansas researcher Michael Lynch said.  “A lot of the Democrats are pushing for reform now, but they were screaming bloody murder when filibuster reform was brought up several years ago.”

Michael LynchLynch is an assistant professor of political science whose areas of expertise include American politics and Congress. His recent research includes papers on the role the vice president plays in Senate filibusters and institutional delay.

To prove how effective a filibuster can be at blocking legislation, just refer back to the 1950s, Lynch said.

“Southern Democrats used it to stop civil rights legislation,” he said. “The longest filibuster in history was (Sen.) Strom Thurmond, with a 24-hour filibuster. Now you don’t actually have to take the floor anymore to filibuster.”

Lynch doesn’t expect big changes to filibuster rules this session.

Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat and Senate Majority Leader, appears to be open to negotiating with Republicans, he said.

That likely means proposals from other Democrats such as the “talking filibuster” — requiring senators to be physically present and speak during a filibuster — will be dropped.

Reid met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday and later said legislators were close to reaching an agreement.

The Senate recessed, rather than adjourned, Tuesday to allow filibuster reform discussion to continue. The Senate may only adopt new procedural rules at the beginning of a session.



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