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December 11, 2012

We have never been a nation of majority rule

Tonawanda News — There seems to be this notion that we’re a democracy. It gets taught to school kids and passed from parents to children. It is discussed in coffee houses, bars and even churches.

It is a lie. We are not a democracy. We never have been. And I pray to God we never will be.

But if a handful of congress-men get their way, we’ll be inching in that direction. Four Democrats from the House of Representatives — with the help of a nonpartisan outfit named Common Cause — have filed suit in U.S. District Court to end the Senate practice known as the filibuster, saying it usurps the “principle of majority rule.”

A filibuster is a tool used by the minority party in the Senate to refuse to allow a bill to be voted on — stating that it still needs debate — unless 60 members of the Senate vote to end discussions (cloture) and vote on the bill at hand. In essence, the minority party (with 40 or more members) can prevent any measure from being voted on as long as they keep debating said issue.

I get what the congressmen are trying to do and it’s admirable in a sense. They feel that the wheels of government have ground to a halt because of a tendency to abuse the filibuster and they want to grease those wheels with some democracy.

To advance their point, there were 16 filibusters from 1840 to 1900. That’s one every four years. There was about one per year in the 20s through the 70s. And then the numbers started rising. In 2009 and 2010 there were 130.

It’s worth noting that prior to 1917, there was no process to stop a filibuster. And until 1975, a cloture vote required two-thirds of senators, seven more than today.

It would seem reasonable to assume that the process of the filibuster is being used more than “intended.” What was once a part of the system of checks and balances has become a burdensome process preventing any real progress from occurring.

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