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Group campaigns against filibusters

A bipartisan group that believes Senate filibusters threaten the principle of majority rule urged all Senate candidates Wednesday to support rule changes that would end the delaying tactics.

The group _ Action, Not Gridlock _ said the 22 Senate filibusters in 1994 were more than in the Senate's first 108 years combined and far more than the average of two a year in the 1960s when such issues as civil rights were debated.

"Today's filibuster epidemic strikes at the very heart of the democratic process and makes it impossible for Congress to do what it's paid to do," former Sen. William Proxmire said at a news conference.

Senate rules allow unlimited debate on a bill or nomination unless 60 of the 100 senators vote to end the filibuster. With Democrats holding only a 56-44 majority, the 60-vote figure is difficult to achieve if the issue splits along party lines.

Republicans, who led the filibusters, said they were trying to prevent bad legislation from passing. Democrats said Republicans mainly wanted to make President Clinton look bad.

Some filibusters were overcome, but others killed such major bills as health care reform and campaign finance reform. In some cases, just the threat was enough.

Proxmire, a Wisconsin Democrat, said the problem would be worse next year if Republicans pick up seats in the Nov. 8 election as expected or take control of the Senate with a slim majority. Filibusters are not allowed in the House of Representatives.

"The American people have a right to know whether their senators and Senate candidates are going to make decisions or block decisionmaking," said Elliot Richardson, a Republican who held several Cabinet positions.

"So we're asking all candidates: Will you be Senator Gridlock, defending filibuster rules which hijack the Senate's right to vote?" Richardson said. "Or will you respect democracy and majority rule and fight to give all of us back our right to action instead of gridlock?"

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