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Editorial Roundup - Nov. 30, 2012

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The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal on immigration reform (Nov. 24) — The election results aren’t likely to bring Democrats and Republicans closer together on all the grave issues facing our country, but it may have narrowed the gap on one of them — the undeniable need for sweeping immigration reform.

If true, a break in the impasse can’t happen fast enough. President Obama promised to deliver on comprehensive immigration legislation in his first term in office. He didn’t do that during his first two years when an amenable Congress was controlled by the Democrats. He was mostly stymied by a majority of Republicans after the 2010 midterm elections.

Nevertheless, Obama did laudably take executive action this year, announcing that the administration would be helping young illegal immigrants get a chance to stay in the country rather than deporting them. He also has pledged to work hard for broader reforms; the election results may help him achieve that goal. That’s because some Republican leaders — seeing that their party’s support among Latinos has eroded greatly from the days when former Texas Gov. George W. Bush was in the Oval Office — are now talking about reform. To his credit, Bush pushed for big changes in the country’s immigration policies, but the GOP leadership in Congress would not budge.

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The Telegraph, Macon, Ga., on jobless benefits (Nov. 25) — Washington’s focus on the “fiscal cliff” ... has shifted attention away from the biggest problem in the economy, which is the more than 12 million Americans still unemployed. More than 5 million of them have been sidelined for more than half a year, which means they’re no longer receiving unemployment insurance benefits from their state. Instead, many are receiving extended unemployment benefits paid for by the federal government. Unless Congress agrees to renew the program, however, that support will end as well, even before the country reaches the fiscal cliff.

It would be tragic if Congress abandoned the unemployed in order to clip a relative smidgen off the deficit — about $30 billion of a deficit of $1 trillion. ...

The Sacramento Bee on U.S. Senate filibuster reform (Nov. 28) — Popular notions of the U.S. Senate filibuster, the practice of talking bills to death or delaying their passage, tend to come from film, such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” or from legendary past examples. ...

In the past, senators actually had to stand on the floor and talk all day and all night to keep debate going. That naturally limited filibusters.

In the last decade, however, filibusters haven’t worked that way. The Senate allows “silent” filibusters — the mere threat of a filibuster — to force the majority to assemble 60 votes to cut off debate and move legislation. These “pseudo-filibusters,” or “obstructionism on the cheap,” have turned the filibuster from a tool of last resort to a regular part of Senate procedure. ...

No longer do senators attempt to put together a majority coalition to carry the day. They threaten filibusters and the business of the Senate grinds to a halt.

This is not a hallowed tradition, but a clear abuse. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used to oppose changes, but now supports reform.

“I think the rules have been abused, and we are going to work to change them,” Reid said recently. “We will not do away with the filibuster, but we will make the Senate a more meaningful place. We are going to make it so we can get things done.”

That’s the right stance. ...

In our constitutional republic, the majority is supposed to rule, with checks and balances to prevent rash decisions. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 22, “the fundamental maxim of republican government requires that the sense of the majority should prevail.”

By adopting changes to its rules, the Senate would assure that the minority could use the filibuster, but the will of the majority would prevail after a reasonable period of public deliberation — restoring the principle of majority rule.