Filibuster Rules Reform: Here's The Package. Now The Clock Starts Ticking

Well, as we observed this morning, the Republicans are out in force whining about Democrats' plans to reform the Senate's filibuster rules. This morning on Fox & Friends, the usual Doocy-Carlson-Kilmeade trio gave a cursory report -- complete

Well, as we observed this morning, the Republicans are out in force whining about Democrats' plans to reform the Senate's filibuster rules. This morning on Fox & Friends, the usual Doocy-Carlson-Kilmeade trio gave a cursory report -- complete with a chryon describing it as a "power grab" by Democrats -- emphasizing Mitch McConnell's suggestion that this it would hurt Democrats down the road if they "eliminate the filibuster."

Except, of course, no one is talking about eliminating the filibuster -- they just want to make it so you actually have to filibuster if you want to stop the Senate from doing its business. That won't hurt Democrats -- especially because they are so smitten with "bipartisanship" that it's hard to imagine them ever conducting the kind of scorched-earth/filibuster-everything tactics the Republicans have used on an ongoing basis for the past fourt years.

So here, officially, is the package of reforms:

Udall-Harkin-Merkley Rules Reform Package

Blocking a vote with a filibuster used to be rare and reserved for extreme situations. Today, major bills, non-controversial bills, sometimes multiple steps on the same piece of legislation, and even non-controversial nominees face filibusters. There have been more filibusters since 2006 than the total between 1920 and 1980.

Senate rules are supposed to allow for substantive debate and to protect the views of the minority – as our founders intended. Instead, they are abused to prevent the Senate from ever voting on, and sometimes even debating, critical legislation.

Our reform resolution helps increase transparency, restores accountability, and fosters debate.

• Clear Path to Debate: Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed

Makes motions to proceed not subject to a filibuster, but provides for two hours of debate. This proposal has had bipartisan support for decades and is often mentioned as a way to end the abuse of holds.

• Eliminates Secret Holds

Prohibits one Senator from objecting on behalf of another, unless he or she discloses the name of the senator with the objection. This is a simple solution to address a longstanding problem.

• Right to Amend: Guarantees Consideration of Amendments for both Majority and Minority

Protects the rights of the minority to offer amendments following cloture filing, provided the amendments are germane and have been filed in a timely manner.

This provision addresses comments of Republicans at last year’s Rules Committee hearings. Each time Democrats raised concerns about filibusters on motions to proceed, Republicans responded that it was their only recourse because the Majority Leader fills the amendment tree and prevents them from offering amendments. Our resolution provides a simple solution – it guarantees the minority the right to offer germane amendments.

• Talking Filibuster: Ensures Real Debate

Following a failed cloture vote, Senators opposed to proceeding to final passage will be required to continue debate as long as the subject of the cloture vote or an amendment, motion, point of order, or other related matter is the pending business.

• Expedite Nominations: Reduce Post-Cloture Time

Provides for two hours of post-cloture debate time for nominees.

Post cloture time is meant for debating and voting on amendments – something that is not possible on nominations. Instead, the minority now requires the Senate use this time simply to prevent it from moving on to other business.

Of course, all of this is eminently sensible. Which virtually guarantees total Republican opposition.

Harry Reid is pushing to make it happen:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on his colleagues of both parties to fix the Senate rules, so that the chamber "can operate in a way that allows the people's elected legislators to legislate."

Greg Sargent has more of Reid's remarks:

In the entire 19th century, the Senate saw fewer than, 12, a dozen filibusters. Now we see that many in a single month...Rather than offer amendments to improve legislation or compromise for the greater good -- as members of this body have done for generations -- the current minority has offered amendments simply to waste time, to delay us from proceeding to a bill or to score political points. The American people love government but they don't like too much politics in government.

These rules are central to the Senate, but they are not sacrosanct. Senate procedures and rules have changed since the Senate was founded at the beginning of this century. Those decisions have never been made without great deliberation, and no future change should be made any differently...

Here's the bottom line: We may not agree yet on how to fix the problem - but no one can credibly claim problems don't exist. No one who has watched this body operate since the current minority took office can say it functions just fine. That wouldn't be true, it would be dishonest. No one can deny that the filibuster has been used for purely political reasons -- reasons far beyond those for which this protection was invented and intended.

As Sargent observes:

The key here is Reid's point that there's precedent for changing Senate rules, and that the primary condition for so doing is that it be done with great deliberation. This is why Reid is negotiating with Republicans in the quest for a possible deal on reform, a senior Senate Dem aide tells me. "This is a major change," the aide says. "Both sides have to have a role in the dialog."

And yet, Reid still reserves the right to pass these reforms by a simple majority in the Senate, the aide says. This would be in keeping with the so-called "Constitutional option," which allows (though there's some dispute around this) each Congress to set its own rules by a simple majority vote on the first day of the session. Here's how this would work: By adjourning today, technically the "first day" of the session continues when Congress returns on January 24th, at which point the Senate could theoretically pass a rules package by simple majority vote.

The bottom line is a simple one: We need to return the Senate to a majority-rule body, as was intended by the Founding Fathers, while preserving the rights of the minority. But it cannot and does not function as a supermajority-only body -- because that, functionally speaking, makes it a minority-rule body. Surely Republicans -- especially those looking forward to seeing the Senate in GOP hands again soon -- can appreciate that too.

Then again, there's nothing rational about today's Republicans.

About David Neiwert

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.