April 11, 2005

Follow The Byrd Rules

Senator Robert Byrd (KKK-Dogpatch) claims that changing rules and invoking parliamentary procedure to end filibusters violates near sacred Senate precedents. Unfortunately for Byrd, history proves him a liar. On at least four different occasions between 1977 and 1987, the Senate invoked parliamentary techniques similar to those proposed by supporters of the “nuclear/constitutional option” to cut off debate and bring about a vote on a measure supported by a partisan majority over the objections of the minority engaged in a filibuster.

Oh, and the member who instigated and orchestrated the end of debate in these four cases was none other than Byrd himself.

In 1977, Byrd cut off a filibuster led by two members of his own party, Sens. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) and James Abourezk (D-S.D.), on a proposal to deregulate natural gas prices. He initiated a maneuver empowering the chair to disqualify amendments under certain circumstances. He then used his recognition rights to foreclose the possibility of appeal. Byrd created a precedent that enabled him to break the filibuster and used it with stunning force.

Two years later, Byrd again manipulated the Senate rules by establishing a precedent to curb the practice of adding legislative amendments to appropriation bills. Byrd's victim that time was Sen. William Armstrong (R-Colo.), who had offered an amendment to raise a cap on military pay. In 1980, Byrd was back at it, changing Senate procedures to prevent a filibuster on a motion to consider the nomination of Robert E. White as ambassador to El Salvador. Republican Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) was the target of Byrd's third tactic. His point of order against Byrd's maneuver was sustained by the chairman, but Byrd prevailed on a party-line 54-38 appeal.

Byrd's fourth change of Senate procedure came in 1987 against Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who was attempting to prevent a vote on a defense authorization bill. Byrd rolled over the GOP's delaying tactics by imposing new precedents through a slew of simple majority votes that ran almost entirely along party lines.

Byrd, who recently trumpeted "the Senate was never intended to be a majoritarian body," made the Senate just that on four occasions when it suited his ends.

The column also points out that a number of senators, in 1995, argued against allowing filibusters to prevent the will of the majority from being carried out in the Senate – even on legislation. The majoritarian reformers included currently serving Democrats Ted Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Barbara Boxer of California, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

In short, the Senate Democrats are engaged in political hypocrisy of the most naked kind. It’s time for Republicans to break the judicial filibuster by using the Byrd precedent.

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