Letter: Half-truths in the Senate
To a politician, being bilingual means talking out of both sides of his mouth. The skill is nonpartisan. A prime example is the “cloture” rule to end a U.S. Senate filibuster.
It’s not in the Constitution or even a statute. It’s only a Senate procedural rule. It could be changed by a majority vote anytime. But it persists in every Senate since 1917.
The cloture rule requires 60 senators to end debate on a bill. This empowers only 41 senators to stop bills from facing a real vote of the Senate. Oh, the leaders argue it is necessary to protect the minority and to permit thoughtful debate. But how is it really used?
Let’s say the Democrats control the Senate but have fewer than 60 seats. There’s a gun-control bill that Dems want to appear to support to gain favor with their party’s voters. But in the Senate, each senator represents his entire state. He might not want to alienate independents and some Republican voters. Republicans oppose the bill. They reliably filibuster it. The bill is dead. The Dem senators get to tell their Dem voters they tried to pass it; they tell their other voters not to worry because it didn’t pass. No laws changed. There was only smoke, mirrors and a half-truth to tell to every voter.
A similar drama played out recently for a bill to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Only this time it was Republicans proposing the bill, Dems threatening a filibuster, a bill that went nowhere and half-truths for every senator to tell his constituents.
The cloture rule could be changed by a majority of the Senate at any time to permit cloture by 51 percent. The Republicans could change it now; the Democrats could have changed it when they had control. But changing the rule would reveal the duplicity of the senators of both parties. The Senate likes to be known as the world’s greatest deliberative body. But the 60 votes cloture rule makes it the greatest bilingual joke in Washington.