Slaying the ‘dinosaur’

SLAYING THE ‘DINOSAUR’…. Now there’s a senator I can agree with — a young New England Democrat who realizes that the filibuster is an institutional menace. He not only calls the parliamentary maneuver “a dinosaur” that had become “a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today,” he actually took steps to kill the filibuster once and for all.

The senator is Joe Lieberman … in 1994.

At the time, Lieberman, part of a Democratic minority, believed Senate obstructionism had gone too far. Even though Republicans had the majority, he and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) decided to take the bold step of pushing for majority rule in the Senate — even if it made it easier for the new GOP-led chamber to pass legislation. At a press conference 15 years ago next month, Lieberman argued:

“[People] are fed up — frustrated and fed up and angry about the way in which our government does not work, about the way in which we come down here and get into a lot of political games and seem to — partisan tugs of war and forget why we’re here, which is to serve the American people. And I think the filibuster has become not only in reality an obstacle to accomplishment here, but it also a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today.

“But I do want to say that the Republicans were not the only perpetrators of filibuster gridlock, there were occasions when Democrats did it as well. And the long and the short of it is that the abuse of the filibuster was bipartisan and so its demise should be bipartisan as well.

“The whole process of individual senators being able to hold up legislation, which in a sense is an extension of the filibuster because the hold has been understood in one way to be a threat to filibuster — it’s just unfair.

“I’m very proud to be standing here with Tom as two Democrats saying that we’re going to begin this fight, because we’ve just been stung by the filibuster for a period of years, and even though the tables have now turned, it doesn’t make it right for us to use this instrument that we so vilified.”

In 1994, when Lieberman thought filibusters had become an outrageous abuse worthy of elimination, there were 39 cloture motions filed. Last year, there were 139. This year, Senate Republicans will likely break their own record.

And Lieberman this week threatened to help them, by opposing a vote on a once-in-a-generation opportunity at health care reform if it includes a provision to let some consumer choose between competing public and private health plans.

One wonders what Lieberman ’94 would think of Lieberman ’09.