Democrats ready to use more filibusters

Friday, October 24, 2003

WASHINGTON -- After using filibusters all year to block President Bush's most-wanted judicial nominees, the Senate's minority Democrats are planning to use the procedural tactics to thwart even more of the GOP's agenda in the waning days of Congress.

"Perhaps we ought to prepare some bumper stickers that say 'Obstruction: It's not just for judges anymore,"' sighed Texas Sen. John Cornyn, summing up Republicans' frustration.

On Wednesday, Democrats used their filibuster power to virtually kill a GOP plan to move class-action lawsuits to less friendly federal courts. Democrats plan to use a filibuster next week to block a Republican bill that would override state privacy laws restricting creditor sharing of customers' financial data.

Once a rare occurrence mostly associated with Southern senators blocking civil rights bills, filibusters have become an often-used tool in recent years for whichever party is the minority. This year, that's the Democrats, with 48 senators and an independent, James Jeffords of Vermont, who usually votes with them. Last year, it was the Republicans in the minority.

Essentially, a filibuster forces the supporters of a bill in the 100-member Senate to garner 60 votes to cut off debate and proceed instead of a simple majority of 51 to get a measure passed. With only 41 votes, opponents can block most legislation.

Democrats insist filibusters and other procedural tactics are the only way to make themselves heard with Republicans controlling the House, Senate and White House.

Of the 13 filibusters Democrats have begun this year, Republican senators haven't been able to break one of them.

To do so would require Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to get a minimum of nine members on the other side of the aisle to vote against their party's position.

On the class-action bill, they got eight Democrats and Jeffords, but lost GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia has voted with the GOP consistently on judicial matters, but Republicans have not be able to get more than three other Democrats to support pushing through the most controversial of Bush's judicial nominees.

With Congress hoping to adjourn by the end of next month, Democratic senators are now using filibuster threats to protest the way Republicans have excluded them from negotiations with the House on compromise bills that merge legislation developed in the House and Senate.

An example is a popular bill in both houses to enable more people to take tax write-offs for charitable contributions. While the Senate version includes a Democratic priority -- giving poor families that don't pay income taxes an expanded child income tax credit in the form of a check from the government -- Daschle is refusing to let negotiations with the House even begin.

"Our Democratic friends are abusing the filibuster rules and it will not pay dividends for their cause in 2004," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a freshman Senate Judiciary Committee member.

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