Leahy Supports Change To Senate Filibuster Rule

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he supports efforts to change the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate, in order to make it harder for senators to block consideration of important bills.

But former Governor Howard Dean says it’s a mistake to change the rules.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The political reality in the U.S. Senate is that it takes 60 votes to pass almost any non budgetary piece of legislation.  That’s the number of senators that are needed to break a filibuster.  

Because they couldn’t break a Republican filibuster of a health care reform bill, the Democrats are trying to pass the legislation with a process known as budget reconciliation – it’s a procedure that needs just a simple majority of 51 senators to be successful.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid says he wants to reform the Senate’s rules next year by lowering the number of senators that would be needed to stop a filibuster.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Senator Patrick Leahy said he agrees with Reid’s plan because he thinks that Senate Republican leaders have misused the filibuster rule:

(Leahy) "I think the filibuster rule should be changed. And the reason it should be changed – it was okay when it was used very, very rarely – like every two to three years on maybe a major thing like civil rights or something like that. And then eventually you come together when it’s used by the minority party over 100 times in a year then it’s being misused."

(Kinzel) And Leahy says Senate Republicans have used the filibuster as a political tool to unfairly block the Democrats’ agenda:

(Leahy) "They used it to defeat veterans’ benefits, they used it to defeat money for our troops abroad. I mean at some point you have to ask ‘why are you just trying to defeat things for the sake of defeating them?’ That is not responsible."

(Kinzel) Former Governor Howard Dean has played an active role during the national health care reform debate. He opposes changing the filibuster rule:

(Dean) "I think you’ve got to be careful of that. A lot of people in this town that think you should do that are Democrats. I just remind them what it’s like to be in a minority – you know the filibuster rule could be used by us to stop some right wing stuff that we don’t like."

(Kinzel) The Senate Rules committee is expected to hold a series of public hearings on Senator Reid’s plan to change the filibuster rule, but no action on the proposal is expected until next year.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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