December 3, 2012

Fight looms in Senate over reform of filibuster

Maine's Susan Collins and independent newcomer Angus King could be on opposite sides of the issue.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Independent Sen.-elect Angus King meets with Republican Sen. Susan Collins on Capitol Hill last month. The two senators representing Maine next year could find themselves on opposite sides of filibuster reform.

The Associated Press

"The filibuster and the rules of the Senate, in many ways, are designed to protect the interests of small states, so I'm not one who thinks it should be abolished altogether," King said. "However, I think its use in recent years has been excessive."

As for Reid's proposals, King said last week he would support restricting filibusters to final votes as well as requiring senators to keep a physical presence on the floor to keep a filibuster alive. The two-term Maine governor was non-committal on using the nuclear option to achieve those reforms.

"I haven't participated in the debate and heard all of the arguments," King said. "But we have to do something to get Congress moving, and I certainly would consider it."

Both Collins and Sen. Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who is retiring in January, have shown a willingness to break with their party by voting to end filibusters on certain issues. But both have also voted with other Republicans to continue blocking legislation on numerous occasions.

Collins, a moderate Republican, also indicated she was open to reforms to address abuses on both sides of the aisle.

"I have always been troubled by my caucus's excessive use of the filibuster on the motion to proceed to the bill as opposed to using it once we are on a bill to block final passage," Collins said in an interview. "Unfortunately, the reason there has been this overuse of the filibuster is directly in response to Democrats limiting the ability of Republicans to offer amendments."

In response, Collins suggested during a Republican caucus meeting last week that McConnell and Reid work out a compromise: Republicans will stop filibustering the "motion to proceed" votes and, in return, Reid would agree not to limit germane amendments to bills.

But Collins warned Democrats against employing the nuclear option, noting that the Senate parliamentarian has ruled in the past that 67 votes are needed to change rules.

"If (Democrats) succeeded, that means rule changes henceforth can be made by just 51 votes," Collins said. "That is a very troubling precedent."

Snowe cited partisanship in Washington as the primary reason for ending her 34-year congressional career. Snowe has also indicated a willingness to consider filibuster reform and other changes to the Senate procedure in order to discourage political gridlock.

Snowe said "there is some merit" to requiring people to be on the floor to maintain a filibuster. But while she has expressed frustrations with overuse of the filibuster on procedural votes, she was more hesitant last week and urged congressional leaders to proceed cautiously.

"Really what's required here is taking a pause, because any serious change in essence will, I think, suppress the minority voice and the minority rights," Snowe said. She also said that any adjustments for the minority party should be balanced by adjustments for the majority in order to maintain balance.

"It's not a good way to start a new Congress and a new Senate on the first day," Snowe said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:


Twitter: @KevinMillerDC


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