Republicans Charge Harry Reid Power Grab on Filibuster

Republicans say Senate majority leader's attempt to change filibuster rules is 'unprecedented.'

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The Washington Post writes it off as a minor "tweak," but Senate Republicans today charged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is mounting an unprecedented "power grab" that will essentially eliminate use of the filibuster in many cases like fighting liberal Supreme Court nominations. [See a slide show of new faces in the Senate.]"It would forever change the nature of the Senate and constitute a naked partisan power grab. Such a move would disrespect our bipartisan system and the will of the American people," says a memo from the Senate Republican Policy Committee, headed by potential presidential candidate Sen. John Thune.At issue is a bid by Reid to change the filibuster rules this week by a simple majority, 51, instead of the traditional two thirds. Since Reid's party controls 53 seats (51 Democrats and independents Joe Lieberman of Connectictut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont), they could institute the change over GOP opposition. [Check out our editorial cartoons on the Democratic Party.]In the memo, provided to Whispers, the GOP also unleashed a broad assault on Reid's handling of the Senate in the past two years, accusing him of cutting Republicans out of debates and blocking GOP legislation. It claims that when the rules are applied, more bipartisan legislation is produced. [Check out our editorial cartoons on the GOP.]Read the memo from the Senate Republican Policy Committee:
Senate Democrats Threaten Unprecedented Power GrabIn the 2010 election, voters rejected two years of unified Democrat control of the federal government. The message was clear: Americans would no longer tolerate a left-wing, big government agenda. This week, the Senate will reconvene with an expanded Republican minority. Democrats would be expected to heed the voice of the voters and work to find consensus solutions to the problems of the day. Shockingly, many Democrats have indicated that they prefer to ignore the election results, shut out their Republican colleagues, and--on a party line vote--rewrite the Standing Rules of the Senate to dramatically curtail minority rights to make it easier to pass an agenda the American people rejected. All those who care about democracy and our republican system of government should reject these efforts.The Senate is a unique legislative institution, designed to guarantee that the minority party--and the large block of Americans they represent--has a voice. The Senate's rules are written to require minority participation, which tends to result in legislation with bipartisan and broad public support. Two distinctive features of Senate procedure are the right to debate and amend. The Democrat majority has made a habit of squelching both of these features, preferring to use procedural gambits to force a partisan agenda through the chamber.The Majority Leader has used his powers to block Republican input on legislation. The Majority Leader is always the first to be recognized on the Senate floor, and he can use that power to offer a series of Democrat amendments to pending legislation in a manner that prevents Republicans from offering any of their ideas. This is called "filling the tree." According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Majority Leader Reid has employed this tactic a record 44 times. He has used it to block minority input into legislation three times more often than the previous Majority Leader, and more than the past six Majority Leaders combined.The Majority Leader has made a habit of shutting down debate before it even starts. In the Senate, the majority can force an end to debate on any matter by a procedure known as cloture. Majority Leader Reid has indicated his lack of interest in deliberation by moving to shut down debate the very day measures are first considered on the Senate floor. According to CRS, the majority has done this nearly three times more, on average, than the previous six majorities. In fact, the current majority in its two Congresses in power has moved to end debate on measures a total of 29 times prior to any amendments even being voted on. The previous majority did this less than half as often--only 12 times in the preceding two Congresses.