Durbin Sounds Off on Slow Senate Progress

Posted April 22, 2008 at 3:20pm

In the latest bout of partisan sniping over perceived and real procedural slights, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took to the floor Tuesday to animatedly lambaste Senate Republicans for “bleeding time” in their strategy to stall legislation, even on issues that they support.

On the Senate floor, Durbin chided Republicans for delaying a vote on a bill that gives pension benefits, housing grants and other benefits to veterans. Durbin complained that it has taken the Senate longer than it should to move legislation that has overwhelming bipartisan support.

“We have to burn off four or five days of doing nothing because of another Republican filibuster. So far in this Congress, the Republicans have initiated 67 filibusters. … And when I asked the Republicans ‘why did you filibuster a bill for veterans benefits?’ they said, ‘because when we have lunch today, we want to talk it over.’”

Senate Democratic leaders recently have been complaining about the GOP filibuster strategy, pointing to the increasing slowness with which the Senate considers bills. They argue that Democrats have had to file cloture and break legislative logjams a record 67 times this session.

A senior Democratic aide said that Durbin’s frustrations stem from having to force a cloture vote on broadly supported veterans legislation (though the measure by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka [D-Hawaii] does contain a controversial provision to give pension benefits to Filipino veterans of World War II who live overseas).

“It’s ridiculous that we would need to waste several days before having a vote on a motion to proceed that passes 94-0,” said the Democratic aide. “That’s obstruction at its worst and frustrating to members of our party who want to try and get things done.

However, Republicans criticize the majority for locking them out of the negotiation process and preventing them from offering amendments.

In response to Durbin’s rant against the Republicans, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said the only strategy left for his Conference is to stall legislation in order to pressure Democrats to compromise on legislation.

“What bothers me is that we have time after time had situations where we weren’t able to even offer amendments. We generally get to that point around here just because we have to,” Hatch said of offering filibusters.

Durbin warned that there would be a political price to pay for GOP obstructionism.

“I hope the people of the United States understand what the problem is. To break a filibuster, it takes 60 votes. There are only 51 Democrats” in the Senate, Durbin said. “The voters of America will have their chance to vote in November.”