Today, Representative Mike Michaud announced he has signed on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed yesterday by Common Cause, challenging that the Senate's use of the filibuster and the hold are unconstitutional.
"Partisanship and gamesmanship have become the norm in Congress, and the filibuster is just one example of that," said Michaud. "The fact that one senator can singlehandedly and secretly stop a bill that would help State Veterans Homes provide care to our veterans shows just how broken Congress is. It's time to fix it."
A Senator may threaten a filibuster, which forces the Senate to obtain 60 votes to proceed with consideration of legislation. Although final passage of the bill only requires 51 votes, the commonplace use of the filibuster means that bills must garner the support of 60 senators before they can advance to the floor. Holds may be placed in secret by any one Senator and are used to indicate that a Senator plans to filibuster a bill. In practice, bills with a hold are not advanced to the floor for consideration. Since 2006 the number of filibusters in the Senate has increased more than 100%. Rep. Michaud's full remarks can be found below.
"The filibuster has evolved into a tool used by the Senate minority party to obstruct legislative business from advancing to the Senate floor," said Michaud. "If successful this court case will fix the way we do business in Washington, and Congress will finally be able to get to work on the real issues that affect real Americans outside the beltway."
Remarks by Rep. Michaud
Common Cause Press Conference
May 15, 2012
I want to thank Common Cause for inviting me to speak today. I am very glad to be a plaintiff in this court case, which I think gets at the very heart of dysfunction in D.C. I joined this case because I believe the Senate filibuster has evolved into an unconstitutional, undemocratic tool that has drastically hindered Congress' ability to consider and pass legislation.
The way the filibuster is used today has raised the threshold a bill must meet before it can even be debated on the Senate floor. It no longer needs 51 votes to pass. Legislation now needs to clear 60 votes before it can even be considered. And holds placed by Senators mean that some legislation is never even considered for debate because one senator is threatening to threaten a filibuster.
I introduced a bill to ensure that State Veterans Homes are reimbursed for the actual cost of the care they provide to our veterans. This is a critical issue for Maine and other states, where state veterans homes may have to start turning away veterans if they don't get properly reimbursed for the care they provide.
My bill was incorporated into a package of veterans-related legislation that also included efforts to address widespread sexual assault at VA facilities. This package of bills passed the House by voice vote in October last year, but unfortunately it is being held up by a hold placed by one senator. The senator doesn't oppose this legislation. He just wants to make sure that action on his top priority is taken care of first.
Because of this hold, my bill hasn't even come to the Senate floor for debate, and as long as the hold remains on the bill, it is unlikely to. As a result, state veterans homes in Maine and around the country won't have the resources to provide care to all of the veterans that need it.
As significant as that is, the consequences of the Senate's filibuster and holds are bigger than just one stalled piece of legislation. They contribute to the partisanship and the gridlock that have paralyzed Congress. Partisanship and gridlock that have gotten so bad, they're forcing out senators like Olympia Snowe, who represented Maine as a moderate in the Senate for 18 years. In her statement announcing her retirement, she said she does not expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. And she also said it is time for change in the way we govern.
I couldn't agree more. The fact that Senator Snowe decided not to pursue another term is a testament to how broken Congress is. It is also proof that we do need to change the way we govern. Changing the Senate filibuster and holds would dramatically improve the functionality of government and make Congress far more productive. It could also increase the number of moderate senators instead of isolating them and improve the reimbursement rates of state veterans homes.
I hope this court case leads to meaningful reform of the Senate rules and a more productive Congress overall. I want to thank Common Cause once again for including me in this effort, and I look forward to seeing this case succeed.