By James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Published in The Detroit News on January 9, 2013
The Employee Free Choice Act would be the law of the land today if it weren't for the modern filibuster.
The Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, would have made it easier to organize a union. In 2008, it easily passed the House of Representatives. A solid majority of U.S. senators supported the bill. But they never got a chance to vote on it, and EFCA died.
The tragedy of EFCA was how easy it was for anti-worker senators to prevent a vote on the legislation. All they had to do was threaten to block it, forcing the Senate Leader to come up with 60 votes rather than a simple majority. No one had to stand on the Senate floor and talk around the clock the way Jimmy Stewart did in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” No one had to miss even one fundraiser.
The modern filibuster makes it far too easy for a tyrannical minority to strangle the democratic process. It’s time to reform it and restore majority rule.
Our brothers and sisters at the Communications Workers of America are leading the fight for filibuster reform. The Teamsters stand with them.
Sen. Harry Reid is expected to bring up filibuster reform in the next few weeks.
Filibuster reform isn’t just about union legislation. The House in 2008-09 passed 435 bills, many helpful to working people. The Senate didn’t discuss them for one second. It was all too easy for anti-worker extremists to prevent it.
Things have gotten even worse since then. Last year, the Senate passed only 2.8 percent of bills introduced – a historic low. In the past two years, the Senate used the filibuster nearly 400 times. As a result, the 112th Congress has been the least productive since the 1940s.
Sen. Carl Levin, along with Sen. John McCain, proposes a reform of the filibuster. I applaud the effort, though I don’t think it goes far enough. The Levin-McCain proposal would still allow the “silent” filibuster, where one senator quietly objects and doesn’t have to take the Senate floor.
I believe those wishing to filibuster a bill must actually hold the floor – and they must be required to actually debate. Most Americans agree. A recent poll conducted by The Huffington Post and YouGov found that 65 percent of Americans believe senators should have to debate for the duration of a filibuster
That’s why the Teamsters Union is supporting the proposal by Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico.
Their proposal would still allow the filibuster to be used – but only sparingly. They would place the burden of breaking the filibuster on the minority. Today, it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. Merkley and Udall would turn that around. Senators who want to filibuster a bill would have to produce 41 votes to sustain it.
There’s another benefit to their proposal: It would streamline the process for approving nominations, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.
By making these modest changes, the U.S. Senate could go a long way to restoring its reputation as the place that works for the American people.
To read archived articles from General President Hoffa, click here.