John Sherman, Moorhead, Published December 20 2013
Letter: Take look at fiasco in HouseIf the modest reining in of the filibuster by Senate Democrats sends “chills down the spine” of Austin Noyes (letter Dec. 1), it’s a good thing for his health he hasn’t been watching the lack of democracy in the House.
Noyes’ claim that the filibuster goes back to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution is simply nonsense. A change in Senate rules engineered by Aaron Burr in 1806 accidentally opened up the possibility of the filibuster, but the first one didn’t occur until 1837, and the word wasn’t even used until 1853. When the Republicans were considering a similar change a few years ago, their leadership called it “the constitutional option.”
For years, filibusters of judicial and executive branch nominees were practically nonexistent; then came Obama and Senate Republicans went crazy. According to Politifacts (11/21/13), before Obama the Senate filibustered 68 nominees; Obama has had 79 filibustered. Filibustering judicial nominees is an attack on both the judicial and executive branches of government by a minority of the legislative branch. In some cases, the filibusters of nominees for executive posts is an attempt to frustrate the functioning of government.
Meanwhile, many observers think a bipartisan majority in the House would pass bills like the farm bill or an immigration bill if they ever came to the floor for a vote, but Republican Speaker John Boehner won’t let them be voted on because of the “Hastert rule,” which states that a bill cannot be voted on unless a majority of the Republican caucus supports it. This means that operationally a majority of the 435-member House is not 218 but a majority of the 233 Republicans, or 117.
The Republicans won’t do anything, and the Democrats can’t, so the House schedules six work days for December with not much to fill them. Maybe they can vote to repeal Obamacare for the 50th time or name a few more public structures after Ronald Reagan.