With Health Care Reform Tied Up In The Senate, Harkin Revisits Call To End Filibuster

Congressional Quarterly/Newscom
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Opening up Medicare isn’t the only issue Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) seems to have flip-flopped on lately. In 1995, he joined Tom Harkin (D-IA)–one of the most ardent supporters of reform in the Senate–in a call to end the modern filibuster. Today, Lieberman is threatening just such a filibuster on a major health care reform bill, which could easily kill the initiative altogether.

It’s amid this episode that Harkin is revisiting his call to end the filibuster.“I think, if anything, this health care debate is showing the dangers of unlimited filibuster,” Harkin told reporters on Thursday. “I think there’s a reason for slowing things down … and getting the public aware of what’s happening and maybe even to change public sentiment, but not to just absolutely stop something.”

The plan he announced with Lieberman 14 years ago would have slowly scaled down the cloture threshold for legislation that had been filibustered. The first vote would require 60. If it failed to reach 60, debate would continue until a new vote, which would require 57, and so on until a simple majority could determine whether the measure lived or died.

“You could hold something up for maybe a month, but then, finally you’d come down to 51 votes and a majority would be able to pass,” Harkin said. “I may revive that. I pushed it very hard at one time and then things kind of got a little better.”

Changing the Senate rules–particularly the filibuster–would be a Herculean feat. But simply the fact that it’s being discussed openly by high-ranking Senators indicates just how frustrated some of them are with the level of obstruction they face.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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