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Merkley visits, says filibuster reform big priority

By Joe Burns
Published On: Feb 18 2013 10:16:50 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 19 2013 11:19:46 AM CST

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley has been one of the leading figures in Washington D.C. to end a century's old political tactic. On Monday, he brought those ideas to Central Oregon.

BEND, Ore. -

The filibuster -- it's a strategy used in Washington to prevent a vote, and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley said in Bend Monday he wants to change the rules, stopping a filibuster before it starts.

Just recently, Senate Republicans did their first-ever filibuster for a presidential Cabinet choice: Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel.

Merkely visited all three Central Oregon counties Monday, updating constituents on his work in Washington, including high-profile efforts to reform the filibuster.

It was a packed house at Hollinshead Barn in Bend, listening to the senator.  Merkley began his town hall discussing his work on Senate filibuster reform.

"The senate is paralyzed," Merkley said. "The filibuster has become an instrument not of personal principle but of party politics."

The issue has become a centerpiece for Merkley, who wants to help return the senate to the productive atmosphere he saw as an intern for the late Sen. Mark Hatfield.

"Appropriation bills aren't getting done, budgets aren't getting done -- just a whole host of important legislation on education, transportation, etc.," said Merkley. "And this needs to change."

Some of the solutions to the roadblocks he's working on: Senators can't filibuster a bill getting to the floor -- they have to have an up or down vote.

They can't filibuster a bill going to conference committee, when both the house and Senate already have passed the bill.

And most important to Merkley: When a senator filibusters a bill or an amendment, they must do so by speaking on the Senate floor, for as long as it takes -- a scene familiar from the classic film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

"They have to stand up and make their views known to their colleagues," said Merkley. "Make their views known to the American people -- that way, the people can weigh in on whether you're a hero or a bum."

The president laid out ambitious goals in his State of the Union address, but in order to get anything done, Merkley says he hopes the Senate moves toward more bipartisanship -- and soon.

"The opinion of Congress is so low because the conversation has been about how do we stop the other side, how do we advance our party?" Merkley said. "Instead of focusing on how we make our families successful, how do we make our economy more successful?"

Merkley told me the filibustering of Hagel is a great example of why there needs to be reform. Merkley was part of the group that pushed and got some minor changes to the rules last month, but he said they are not enough to really solve the problem.

The first question asked at the town hall was about the controversial topic of gun safety.

A large gathering of members from Organizing for Action, a group to help promote President Obama's agenda, were at the Bend town hall, holding signs that read "Pass Obama's Plan to Reduce Gun Violence", "Prevent Gun Violence Now," "Gun Owners for Background Checks" and "The Time for Gun Safety is Now."

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