Friday, January 07, 2011

26 Democrats Push For Senate Filibuster & Holds Rule Changes

Jan 7: As previously reported a number of Senate Democrats are proposing to revise the Senate Rules relating to filibuster so-called "Secret Holds"; & "Shadow Filibusters" [See WIMS 1/5/11]. Although even the procedure regarding when and how to change Senate Rules is debatable, it is generally recognized that rule changes are considered on the first day of a new Congressional session. Accordingly, U.S. Democratic Senators Tom Udall (NM), Tom Harkin (IA) and Jeff Merkley (OR) introduced a resolution (Senate Resolution 10) to reform the Senate rules that includes a package of provisions designed to "increase transparency, restore accountability and foster debate in an institution where obstruction and dysfunction have pushed aside progress for the American people."
    Currently, the resolution is co-sponsored by 26 senators. According to a release from Senator Udall the primary sponsor, the resolution comes after years of "unprecedented obstruction and a historic rise in the use of the filibuster." He points out that since 2006, there have been more filibusters than the total between 1920 and 1980. As a result of this "dysfunction," he says in the last Congress the Senate was unable to pass a single appropriations or budget bill, left more than 400 bills sent over by the House unconsidered, and left key executive appointments and judicial nominations to languish.
    Sen. Udall said, "Here in the Senate, open, honest debate has been replaced with secret backroom deals and partisan gridlock. Up-or-down votes, and sometimes even debate, on important issues have been unreasonably delayed or blocked entirely at the whim of a single senator. The American people are fed up with it. They are fed up with us. And I don't blame them. We need to bring the workings of the Senate out of the shadows and restore its accountability. Over the next two weeks the American people will have the opportunity to add their voices to the call for reform and I encourage them to speak loudly."
    Sen. Harkin said, "This reform effort is about one thing: ensuring the Senate can operate more fairly, effectively and democratically to meet the challenges of our time. When I first moved toward a reform effort in 1995, I saw an escalating arms race, where each side ratcheted up the use of the filibuster. The sad reality is that, today, because of the indiscriminate use of the filibuster, the ability of our government to legislate and to address problems is severely jeopardized. Sixteen years after I first introduced my proposal, it is even more apparent that for our government to properly function, we must reform and curb the use of the filibuster."
    Sen. Merkley said, "The clear and undeniable fact is that the Senate is broken. Thoughtful deliberation does not occur and far too much gets lost in a tangle of obstruction and delay. Our proposal will help restore the Senate to what the American people believe it ought to be - an institution that respects both minority and majority rights and allows fair consideration, debate and decisions on legislation and nominations."
    According to a summary, the rules reform package includes five provisions that would do the following:
  • 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.
  • Eliminate 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.
  • Guarantee 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.
  • 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: Provide 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.
    After meeting briefly on January 5, for swearing in ceremonies and some procedural considerations, the Senate is now scheduled to reconvene at 10:00 AM on January 25. It is expected that consideration of rules revisions will be an early matter for consideration when Senators reconvene. As WIMS previously reported support for the change is sharply divided along party lines, however, a rule change may be passed by a simple majority. The Senate votes are now divided with 51 Democrats, 2 Independents that caucus with Democrats and 47 Republicans.
    The Washington Post reported that following a Democratic caucus meeting yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated that Democrats were ready to consider rules reform on their own. He said, "It's very clear that Democrats want to change the rules. They believe, as I believe, the rules have been abused, as I said in my opening statement yesterday. And we're going to work toward that. We hope that the Republicans see the light of day and are willing to work with us. If not, we'll have to do something on our own."
    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on January 5, . . one party shouldn't be allowed to force its will on everyone else. And thanks to the Senate, it rarely has. And that's why a recent proposal to change the Senate's rules by some on the other side is such a bad idea. . . a proposal to change the Senate rules so they can continue do exactly what they want with even fewer members than before. Instead of changing their behavior in response to the last election, they want to change the rules. Well, I would suggest that this is precisely the kind of approach a supermajority standard [i.e. 60-vote rule] is meant to prevent."
    In addition to Udall, Harkin and Merkley, the resolution is currently co-sponsored by the following senators: Dick Durbin (IL), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Sherrod Brown (OH), Mark Begich (AK), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Michael Bennet (CO), Barbara Boxer (CA), Benjamin L. Cardin (MD), Bob Casey (PA), Christopher Coons (DE), Al Franken (MN), Kay Hagan (NC), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Joe Manchin (WV), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Jay Rockefeller (WV), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Jon Tester (MT), Mark Udall (CO), Mark Warner (VA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).
    Access a release from the Senators (click here). Access legislative details for S.RES.10 including a list of cosponsors (click here). Access a release from Senator Udall (click here). Access a video from Senator Merkley (click here). Access the complete statement from Sen. McConnell (click here). Access the FixTheSenateNow campaign website for extensive background information (click here). Access the Washington Post article (click here).