So the Dems sound serious about filibuster reform this time -- but then, they always sound serious about it, until they fold as usual. which means the Republicans will have to publicly oppose legislation the voters back home would like -- and give Democrats lots of footage to use in campaign ads:
The most persistent advice that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he gets from liberals he meets across the country is as simple as it is frustrating: "Make them actually filibuster!"
The advice grew loud enough in 2009 that Reid's office leaked a memo to HuffPost explaining why exactly Senate Democratic leaders can't force Republicans to talk out their filibuster, Mr. Smith-style. In 2011, Reid flirted with filibuster reform, but backed off at the last minute, striking a handshake deal with Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) instead. That agreement -- that the two would cooperate to make sure the chamber ran smoothly -- lasted as long as one might expect.
Now, Reid is ready to pull the trigger on a change. "I was wrong," Reid said recently about his unwillingness to back a handful of junior senators who were pushing for reform.
With Reid's backing, the reform caucus stands a good chance of enacting rules changes. The plan they're putting forward is still taking shape as the reformers work to gather support, but its central tenets were laid out by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Merkley said that he first pitched filibuster reform to Reid in the summer of 2007, while he was being recruited as a candidate. The plan he put forward in 2011, he said, has been significantly revised.
The critical component, though, is a mechanism that would force senators to physically take the floor and speak in order to maintain opposition to legislation. The effort to end a filibuster is called a cloture motion. Under the proposed rules, if a cloture vote failed to win a simple majority, the bill would be killed and the Senate would move to new business. But if it won a majority -- though less than a supermajority of 60 -- the bill would remain on the floor for any senator who wished to opine on it. If at some point no senator rose to speak, after given several chances to do so, a new vote would be called -- and only a simple majority would be needed to pass it.
"You have to present your case," said Merkley. "If you think there should be more debate, then you've got to debate. You've got to present your case before your colleagues, before the American public. If you haven't got the guts to do that, then you shouldn't stand in the way of the majority vote."
The thinking behind the proposed rule is that it will highlight opposition that is unpopular, but will still allow a determined minority to block legislation. Liberal supporters of the filibuster argue that eliminating it would lead to restrictions on reproductive rights, drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge or other rollbacks of major gains. But, as long as a handful of senators are willing to take turns holding the floor, then the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is safe, Merkley said.
Well boys, put up or shut up. What's it gonna be?