Harkin Reintroduces Measure to Weaken Filibuster

Posted February 11, 2010 at 3:51pm

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Thursday reintroduced a resolution to weaken the Senate filibuster, but the measure is unlikely to pass given that 67 Senators would need to support it — a heavy lift.

Harkin, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chairman, first introduced the resolution in 1995, when Democrats were in the minority. The Iowan said he offers the provision assuming full well that his party will be in the minority again at some point in the coming years, noting that control of the Senate has changed hands six times since he was first elected in 1984.

“I do not see how we can effectively govern a 21st-century superpower when a minority of just 41 Senators can dictate action, or chronic inaction — not just to a majority of Senators, but to a majority of the American people,” Harkin told reporters during a news conference.

Harkin’s resolution would decrease the number of votes required to break a filibuster with each successive attempt. The first cloture vote on any bill, nomination or anything else eligible to be filibustered would still require 60 votes.

However, Harkin’s proposal, which would amend the standing rules of the Senate, would require fewer and fewer votes to achieve cloture with each successive attempt. The second cloture motion on a bill, for example, could be filed two days after the first and would only require 57 votes to end debate.

If that vote failed to achieve cloture, another motion could be filed two days later, and this time only 54 votes would be needed to end debate. If that vote failed, a cloture motion could be filed two days after that, and this time only a bare majority of 51 votes would be required to end debate.

Harkin lamented that the number of filibusters is growing with every Congress, regardless of which party is in the minority. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said it makes no sense to her given that several proposals that are filibustered eventually pass with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

“You know, I’m new to this body, but like so many of my colleagues, I ran for the Senate in 2008 because I wanted to do something to address the big challenges that we face in this country,” she said. “Unfortunately the gridlock that we’re seeing n the Senate is keeping us from doing that.