- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

The Senate’s top leaders met yesterday to discuss changing one of the most fundamental and long-standing rules differentiating the upper chamber from the lower house.

Frustrated by two Democrat-led filibusters — one lasting four months — against President Bush’s judicial nominees, Republicans have introduced a resolution to, in essence, ban the use of filibusters against executive nominees.

“The United States Senate is tied in a Gordian knot with two filibusters,” said Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, the lone Democrat to publicly support the Republican effort. “And unless we untie this knot … the confirmation process will be changed forever.”

Mr. Miller and the leadership from both parties met in the rarely used Rules Committee hearing room in the Russell Senate Office Building yesterday afternoon. The ornate room was filled with people who had come to hear the arguments.

By careful design, senators are guaranteed nearly unlimited time to debate with an eye toward balancing the somewhat hotter passions that often prevail in the House of Representatives.

Over the course of 227 years, the Senate has altered its rules to now allow 60 senators to force an end to debate so that a final vote can be taken on any given nominee or piece of legislation.

“Forty-one sore losers can always win over 59 advocates,” said Mr. Miller, who has in the past noted that the word “filibuster” comes from the Portuguese word for “pirate.” “Is that the kind of democracy we want to hold up as the great American example?”

Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, warned that diminishing the Senate’s ability to block presidential nominees would undermine its constitutional obligation to provide “advice and consent” in presidential nominations.

“If that doesn’t make us a rubber stamp for any administration, then I don’t know what does,” he said.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, recalled when, more than 40 years ago, he served in the 435-member House, where debate is severely limited and floor time is parceled out a minute at a time: “I had things to say, and I didn’t want to be limited to one minute,” he said.

Mr. Byrd commended those who argued to protect extended debate. He then went on to speak for 20 minutes about the history of the Senate and the sanctity of its rules.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans had the market cornered on consistency. Both sides provided examples from past years where members had taken up the cause of the other side based on principle. Several senators warned that the remedy they seek today could be the poison that defeats them in future years.

But Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, told colleagues that the resolution he introduced “will permit ample debate while rejecting delay in perpetuity. My remedy fits squarely within the Senate traditions of balancing the right to debate with the responsibility to conclude the people’s business.”

As usual, the debate at times veered into years-long feuds between the parties about which side had held up whose nominees the most.

It all reminded Mr. Miller of a football game in Cleveland a few years back when the crowd rose up in the stands and “ran both teams off the field.”

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