December 22, 2013

Barney Frank: Free to call Republican senators ‘crybabies’

Doing away with the required 60-vote majority is one of the best things to happen in a long time.

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My first response is that changing this aspect of the Senate is one of the best things that has happened to us in a long time. I believe that requiring a 60-vote majority even for normal legislation is a mistake and I can testify personally that the financial reform bill was weakened in a couple of cases – not fatally – by the need to get 60 votes in the Senate.

Historically, the argument has been that the filibusters were needed to protect minorities – in fact, exactly the opposite was the case. Until the recent practice of requiring 60 votes for everything, filibusters were invoked overwhelmingly to prevent the Senate from following the House in adopting legislation to protect African-Americans in the South from police brutality, from the denial of their right to vote, and from other forms of vicious racism.

The Republicans’ response to this has been to act as if democracy has somehow been undone. They are now announcing that they are engaging in a strike, and will do everything they can to slow down the Senate. This slowdown is in addition to their announced decision that they will no longer cooperate with Democrats on major legislative matters; apparently, that is, they do not plan to help achieve policy goals that they otherwise agree with.

This last point is a particularly important one. Unfortunately, bipartisan cooperation has been too little in evidence in recent years and those cases where senators of both parties have worked together have generally been reserved for especially important matters that transcend ideological difference and are very much in the public interest. When Republican senators announce that they are so angry that the president can get judges confirmed that they will stop working on issues of this magnitude is simply a tantrum. That is, it is the reaction of crybabies.

One line of argument from some pundits is that the Democrats must deal with this by finding some way to make concessions to the Republicans’ hurt feelings. But there is an alternative: The public should tell those senators who are angry – who use extraconstitutional leverage in imposing their personal agendas through the process of “holds” and who want to preserve a District of Columbia circuit court that is biased against effective legislation – should simply get over it.

And in this case, I have more confidence in them than they appear to have in themselves.

That is, I do not think that most members of the Senate will allow their anger at an entirely legitimate exercise of majority rule to prevent them from going forward in cooperative efforts that are demonstrably in the public interest.

I do not believe they will find a sympathetic hearing among the majority of Americans when they complain that a president who has twice been elected by a majority of American people is being given the right to appoint people to important offices with the consent of a majority of the Senate.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: @BarneyFrank

– Special to the Telegram

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