One of the Senate’s leading defenders of tradition is endorsing a rules change to curb perceived filibuster abuse.
In a wide-ranging interview with Roll Call, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, the longest-serving active Senator, blessed modifying rules to limit debate on procedural motions.
In a shift, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says that if he is still the Majority Leader next January, he will move to eliminate the ability to filibuster motions to proceed to legislation that prevent consideration of bills before debate even begins. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is vociferously opposing the change. The Kentucky Republican says Reid has caused the problem through an unprecedented use of procedural tools to prevent amendments. Inouye is siding with Reid.
“It’s such a routine thing: ‘Let’s take this up.’ If you’re against it, why don’t you just filibuster the bill?” the Hawaii Democrat said.
Inouye cautioned against more extreme measures that might make the Senate function like the House.
“If there’s going to be a change in the filibuster rules, I hope we can work out something so that something like motion to proceed is not filibustered. I am for the filibuster,” Inouye said. “I have voted against wiping out filibusters because I represent a very small state, and my state is a state of minorities. We don’t have a majority group, and we believe in giving all minorities their day in court.”
The protection of minority rights has been intensely personal for Inouye. Last Dec. 7, on the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he gave a rare floor speech to not only recount seeing Japanese planes fly over Hawaii, but also to remind the audience in the gallery and on C-SPAN of the events that followed, including the internment of more than 100,000 fellow Americans of Japanese descent.
In his interview with Roll Call last week, he recalled that during his early years as a Senator, filibusters were quite infrequent. Old bull Southern Democrats trying to block civil rights legislation led the longest filibusters.
“Now, one may have taken more than a week. Twenty-four hours a day, but it was something where opposition could express their thoughts in adequate fashion,” Inouye said. “At the appropriate time, it came for the vote.”
Above Inouye’s desk in the corner of his spacious office at the far end of one of the Capitol’s iconic Brumidi corridors hangs a painting of Oliver Ellsworth and Roger Sherman, the delegates to the Constitution convention who crafted the “Connecticut Compromise,” which led to the bicameral legislature in which the Senate would have equal representation from each state.