Murkowski Warns Alaskans Ending Filibusters Could Be Dangerous

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A little less than a week after a Senate floor standoff on raising the debt limit , a key Republican at the center of the storm was back in her home state warning of the possibility of future Senate rules changes.  

Sen. Lisa Murkowski last week had resisted efforts to make hers be the 60th vote in favor of limiting debate on suspending the debt limit, telling reporters "nobody likes to be 60 ."  

Murkowski appeared before the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday for a wide-ranging address, which included some discussion of the concern Democrats might do away with filibusters, allowing more liberal senators to enact legislation unpopular in Alaska.  

"It may only be a matter of time before this Senate majority ends the right to filibuster legislation all together," Murkowski said. "Think about what that might mean for us trying to keep ANWR from permanent wilderness status."  

History has shown that her example, however, cuts both ways.  

The last big legislative effort related to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in favor of opening the land to drilling, was defeated by filibuster.  

That Senate floor standoff played out in December 2005, when Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, tried to tuck ANWR language in the final fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations conference report. During that debate, Stevens appeared with his famous Hulk tie.  

The procedural maneuver, which ran afoul of the Senate's rule against air-dropping material into conference reports, led to an usually personal floor exchange between Stevens and another of the Senate's titans, West Virginia Democrat Robert C. Byrd.  

"I love this man from Alaska. I do, I love him. I feel my blood in my veins is with his blood. I love him, but I love the Senate more. I came here and swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and I would die upholding that oath, just as the Romans honored an oath. And I feel the same about that," Byrd said. "I love my friend from Alaska, I say, I love him, but I cannot go down that road. I have told him so. I love him, but I love the Senate more."  

The must-pass measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and the defense spending bill eventually became law without the Stevens ANWR language.  

In her speech to the Alaska Legislature, Murkowski recalled the Senate's historic role in protecting the interests of the least populous states, expressing concern that further curbs to the power of the Senate minority could make Alaska's interests more likely to be ignored.  

"All of this undermines fundamental constitutional principles. The founding fathers structured the Senate to protect the rights of states with small populations like Alaska, by giving them equal representation and protecting minority rights. Unlike the House, the Senate historically gave Alaska the same voice as California and New York," Murkowski said. "These changes are not good for Alaska, they're not good for the Senate and they are not good for the country."