Wednesday was the opening day of the 112th Congress and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin took to the Senate floor to lead the effort to change a key senate rule. According to Harkin, it’s time to change the so-called “filibuster” rule which prevents action on bills.
“It’s no surprise that Americans are fed up and angry with their federal government,” Harkin said during a speech on the Senate floor. “In too many critical areas, people see a legislature that is simply unable to respond effectively to the most urgent challenges of our time.”
It requires a vote of at least 60 senators to end debate on a bill in order to vote on the legislation. So, even if 51 senators would vote to pass the bill, a minority of 41 senators can use a filibuster to prevent a vote.
“Two-hundred-75 filibusters in four years is not just a cold statistic. It represents the minority blocking measures sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes that enjoy broad support among the American people,” Harkin said. “Just in the last congress, the filibuster was used to kill many bills that enjoyed majority and often bipartisan support.”
Harkin is leading a group of senators who are proposing changes in senate rules to reduce the ability of 41 senators to prevent the other 59 from passing bills.
“The power of an individual senator comes not by what we can do, but by what we can stop,” Harkin said yesterday. “That’s the dirty little secret of the senate.”
Harkin first proposed this change in 1995 when he and his fellow Democrats were in the minority. Republicans are currently in the minority and the Senate’s G.O.P. leader opposes Harkin’s reform effort.