A myriad of liberal organizations has plotted for months behind the scenes to rewrite Senate rules to limit the power of Republicans. As their anti-filibuster campaign reaches a critical moment, they’re pulling out all the stops. In recent days, the New York Times editorialized in support of their effort and the Washington Post carried op-eds from their allies.
As a result, it has become clear this is a one-sided effort lacking any pretense of bipartisanship. Labor unions, activist groups and liberal news outlets are championing the idea as the Senate prepares for the first day of the 112th Congress — the day liberals want to enact their “reforms.”
A media conference call later this morning to discuss “filibuster abuse” features a who’s who of liberal leaders: Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, Larry Cohen of Communications Workers of America, Bob Edgar of Common Cause, and Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Communications Workers of America and Common Cause joined the Sierra Club last year to launch a new Fix the Senate Now coalition. When it was created, its other supporters remained anonymous. Now, nearly all anonymity is gone — and, with it, the illusion that the campaign possesses bipartisan support.
Organizations supporting Fix the Senate Now include the Alliance for Justice, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, the Brennan Center for Justice, Voices for Progress, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Credo and Progressive Congress, according to an e-mail from coalition spokeswoman Rachel Wolf.
Taken together, the political ideology of those behind the anti-filibuster initiative becomes clear.
“The coalition is a loose affiliation of groups who are all committed to Senate rules reform,” Wolf explained in her e-mail. “Numerous other organizations are working independently on the issue — as are many academics and legal scholars.”
Last month, a group of such academics wrote a letter to the Senate to “clarify some of the common historical and constitutional misperceptions about the filibuster and Rule XXII.” The letter is heavy on facts and light on political posturing, but it clearly seeks to remove any perceived obstacles to the elimination of the filibuster — and the affiliations of its authors are revealing.
The academics hail from the Brookings Institution, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Los Angeles, Columbia University, Washington University and the University of Miami. A lone scholar from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Norm Ornstein, hardly toes the conservative line. He testified last year in favor of changing the Senate’s filibuster rule.
Still, filibuster critics insist the move to discard a storied Senate rule is not a power grab. They argue the filibuster is increasingly being used to slow legislation, according to the Fix the Senate Now website, and, in a split Congress, “standstill is often the default setting.” Republicans counter that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) routinely limits their ability to debate or amend legislation — leaving the GOP with little choice but to use the filibuster.
“Both parties will have to work together to move forward in 2011,” the Fix the Senate Now website states. “Constitutional historians from across the ideological spectrum support bringing the legislative process out of backroom chambers.”
That sounds nice, but, so far, the ideological spectrum really hasn’t been represented in the attempt to snuff out a rule that does no more than ensure transparency and deliberation for all legislation that’s passed.
Tina Korbe is a staff writer in the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism unit at The Heritage Foundation.