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More Frustration With Senate Rules After Craig Becker Vote

The vote to block Craig Becker from a position on the National Labor Relations Board, which “lost” by a count of 52-33, angered some longtime Senate Democrats, who would be needed to eventually change the Senate rules.

“I’m in my thirty-sixth year. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), noting that no previous Republican Senate leader would have allowed his party to filibuster such a routine nomination.

Leahy said that the overuse of filibusters by the GOP was leading Democrats to consider ways to modify it.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), another long-serving member, said that abuse of the filibuster is unsustainable. “I think it will either fall of its own weight — it should fall of its own weight — or it will fall after some massive conflict on the floor, which has happened in the past where there have been rulings from the chair that have led to reform,” Levin told the Huffington Post, adding that the filibuster should be restricted to major issues.

Why is the Becker vote drawing such outrage? It’s difficult to find any other instance of a nominee for the National Labor Relations Board even coming up for a cloture vote at all. Becker’s confirmation hearing was the first for a non-chairman NLRB nominee since 1980. As Sherrod Brown notes in Ryan Grim’s piece, for decades, Republican Presidents have nominated pro-management types to the NLRB and Democrats have nominated pro-labor types. Understand that the NLRB arose out of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, and here was Franklin Roosevelt’s signing statement on that act: “This act defines, as a part of our substantive law, the right of self-organization of employees in industry for the purpose of collective bargaining, and provides methods by which the government can safeguard that legal right.” Having board members not disposed to labor would actually violate the spirit of the board, yet that has been done consistently with Republican nominees.

So that’s the background for why Senate Democrats are so fed up. The fact that Becker actually got 61% of the votes of those present yesterday may also be a factor. As Ben Eidelson notes, the Senate is by nature an undemocratic institution in that the representation is skewed toward small states, and sometimes a filibuster represents the votes of a majority of the US population. In fact, that happens most of the time – 64% – when Democrats are filibustering a Republican majority, and just 3% of the time when Republicans filibuster a Democratic majority. But this is not how we count votes in the US Senate, with each Senator getting the proportion of the vote of the population he or she represents. In a perfect world, a unicameral legislature would serve the nation well. But until that time, the 60-vote hurdle, now being trotted out for routine appointments, is too onerous for a democracy to function, particularly one with such unbalanced ideological rigidity from one party.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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