01/04/2011 03:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Coloradans Rally to End the Abuse, Change the Senate Filibuster Rules

Supporters of Senate filibuster reform rallied Monday on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet sent representatives to speak. Among speakers were three state representatives, the city auditor, a Denver School Board member and a student Dream Act activist.


Hosted by Northwest Denver Organizing for America, the gathering focused on the numerous critical issues that have been held hostage in the Senate during the 111th Congress, due to obstruction resulting from abuse of Senate rules of filibuster to delay or deny debate on issues. Often a single senator has placed a secret hold on a piece of legislation or a nominee, a symptom of easy manipulation and inordinate power of corporate special interest lobbyists that supersede the interests of the people.

Though Senate rules were originally intended to permit substantive debate and to protect minority input, they were not intended as tools to obstruct the majority will. The Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel notes that as majority leader in the Senate, Lyndon Johnson needed to file for cloture to end a filibuster only once, while during President Obama's first two years, Harry Reid filed for cloture 84 times. Thus, the filibuster was used more in 2009 than in the 1950s and 1960s combined. Writes vanden Heuvel, "The filibuster was never intended to be wielded as a weapon of obstruction. Its current abuse was not contemplated by those who created it. Used this way, the filibuster does not just check the power of the majority; it cripples it. It is the very definition of minority tyranny, a concept as antithetical to democratic principles as any in the republic."

More than 300 bills that were passed by the House during the 111th Congress were subsequently filibustered by minority Republicans in the Senate - among them, the Dream Act and immigration reform, collective bargaining, health care reform, unemployment benefits, economic reform, fair taxation, real job stimulus, alternative energy and climate change legislation, stem cell research, and the Disclose Act for transparency of exponentially increasing political contributions in the aftermath of Citizens United vs. FEC, which grants corporation unlimited expenditures on campaigns.

To begin to fix a broken system that serves a minority of big-money interests, the consensus of many organizing for real change is that the Senate must adopt new rules that allow the institution to work for the American people.

Citing "anti-democratic limitations on majority rule" that have paralyzed the Senate, Denver House District 2 Democrats at their November meeting unanimously drafted an open letter with over 100 signatures to Colorado's senators and copied to Senator Harry Reid, urging action to reform Senate rules to end partisan gridlock during their narrow window of opportunity when the Senate reconvenes on January 5, 2011. Only on the first day of the new session can a rules change be made by a simple majority, without threat of filibustering the change of filibuster rules. These Denver Democrats endorsed Senate Resolution 619 introduced in September by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), who has voiced his intention to call on the Senate to exercise its constitutional right to rule-making for that body, by a simple majority vote on the first day of the 112th Congress, rather than a two-thirds majority (67) required for rules change at other times.

All returning Democratic U.S. senators have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) citing unprecedented obstruction by minority Republicans during the 111th Congress and urging change of the filibuster rules. "We believe the current abuse of the rules by the minority threatens the ability of the Senate to do the necessary work of the nation, and we urge you to take steps to bring these abuses of our rules to an end," reads the Dec. 18 letter to Sen. Reid signed by 56 Democrats and independents.


The organizers of the Colorado rally encourage everyone call to urge support for filibuster reform by Democratic senators, including Senator Reid, and Republican senators who might be persuaded - Sens. Olympia Snow, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Scott Brown. Urge them to begin to reverse the abuses of power in Washington by adopting new Senate rules on January 5. Call the toll-free number for Congress: 866-220-0044.