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Republicans Enlist History in Fight Against Filibusters

By Dana Milbank
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page A04

The filibuster fight in the Senate has long been hysterical; now, it's getting historical.

As Senate Republicans weigh the "nuclear option" of banning the minority Democrats' ability to block President Bush's judicial nominees, the upper chamber has reacted by doing what it does best: delving through legislative arcana.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) tried to change filibuster laws.

On Thursday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a news release asserting that Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), the Democrats' point man in the effort to preserve the filibuster, was himself an advocate for replacing supermajority votes with simple majority votes back in the 1970s, when he was the majority leader and Republicans were using the filibuster.

The Republicans, in the release titled "An Elephant Never Forgets," pointed out that Byrd:

• Originated a proposal in 1975 to reduce the supermajority from two-thirds to three-fifths.

• Broke a filibuster in 1977 with a simple majority vote.

• Threatened in 1979 to change Senate rules to break a filibuster, asserting that "this Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past" and that "rules have been changed from time to time."

• Made other parliamentary maneuvers in 1980 and 1987 to stifle debate.

But while an elephant may never forget, he occasionally omits mitigating details. Or so says Byrd. "They're trying to make me the issue rather than the nuclear option," he said in an interview Thursday. "Everything the Senate did back then was to strengthen Senate rules."

Specifically, Byrd asserts:

• That his 1975 action was to prevent the Senate from switching to a simple majority vote.

• In the 1977 case, the Senate had already voted 77 to 17 to cut off debate when senators attempted a "post-cloture" filibuster.

• In the 1979 case, also about "post-cloture" filibusters, he was supported by Senate Republican leader Howard Baker (Tenn.).

• That his actions in 1980 and 1987 "did not contravene any precedent or standing rule" and "ensured that Senate procedure would conform more closely" to the rules.

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