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Filibuster reform finds an unlikely ally

Associated Press

For many on the left cheering on Senate Democrats recently as they threatened the "nuclear option," last week was a serious letdown. Republicans caved, and gave Dems the deal they wanted that led to quite a few confirmation votes, but the institution's dysfunctional rules were left squarely in place. For those who are eager to see real reform, the deal was wholly unsatisfying -- the broken rules haven't changed at all.

Proponents of reform are, however, continuing to pick up allies. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who turns 90 today, conceded what most senators are reluctant to acknowledge.

Senate leaders should change how they use the filibuster, he said.

"There are things that should be stopped, but at least there ought to be a vote," he said. "It can't continue, this constant holding up bills."

Remember, Dole isn't exactly an angel on this front. When Bill Clinton became president, and there was a large, 57-seat Democratic majority in the Senate, then-Minority Leader Dole found obstructionism quite appealing. There are certainly key procedural differences between a filibuster and cloture motion, but just for the purposes of comparison, note that in the 103rd Congress (1993 and 1994), there were 80 cloture motions filed -- at the time, this was a record high, and more than the combined total of every Congress from 1917 to 1970.

Dole, in the other words, knows quite a bit about obstructionism from personal history.

But even he realizes his party's antics have gotten completely out of hand, and have reached an untenable level that "can't continue." This is the same Dole, by the way, who said in May he believes his party has failed to come up with a positive agenda and is so far to the right that neither he nor Reagan could be accepted by today's Republican Party.

In March, the Boston Globe ran a lengthy, fascinating feature on Dole coming to terms with the fact that the "old rules no longer apply" with today's GOP lawmakers.

It's seems Dole has some worthwhile advice for his party. It's a shame his party doesn't want to hear it.