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Lautenberg Takes Swipe at Filibuster Rules

The number of Senate Democrats looking to change the chamber’s filibuster rules continued to grow Tuesday after Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced legislation to give the majority the ability to curtail lengthy post-cloture debate time.

A number of lawmakers — including the chamber’s freshman and sophomore Democrats and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) — have been pushing for reforms to the chamber’s rules to respond to Republican attempts to filibuster the Democratic agenda.

Under Lautenberg’s bill, the Majority Leader could cut short the post-cloture period — generally 30 hours — if there is a lull in floor debate and no lawmaker seeks to be recognized. Although under the existing rules the post-cloture period can be shortened, it requires a unanimous consent agreement. As a result, the chamber is often empty of Members while clerks read endless quorum calls to “burn the clock” until a vote.

The use of cloture motions is a particularly useful tactic for the minority, since it allows them to create short-term de facto filibusters that slow the chamber to a crawl and eat up legislative days. Lautenberg has dubbed the bill the “Mr. Smith Act” after the famous Jimmy Stewart movie about a freshman Senator who spends hours on the floor in an effort to block legislation.

“If a Senator wants to delay our work in the Senate, then that Senator must show up on the floor and debate,” Lautenberg said in a statement.

“Filibusters should happen on Capitol Hill, not from the Capital Grille. If any of my colleagues feel strongly enough about a bill or nomination to stop all work in the Senate, they should have no problem standing on the Senate floor to explain their opposition to the American public,” Lautenberg said.

A senior GOP leadership aide dismissed the legislation as a political ploy and argued Democrats are focused on matters of little consequence — such as Parliamentarian changes — to the public.

“Democrats have undoubtedly tapped into the thoughts and concerns of every American family with this scorching critique of parliamentary tactics. As difficult as it might be to ignore, Republicans may choose to talk about jobs, the economy and their government takeover of health care,” the aide said.

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