Filibuster Reform Falters In Senate

Three Senate Democrats failed to win enough support to push forward with rules changes that would have made it more difficult to obstruct legislation.

Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, had introduced measures that would have made it more difficult for a minority of the Senate to stand in the way of passage of bills favored by the majority.

However, Wednesday night Senate Republicans objected to allowing the Senate to debate and vote on their rules reform. The Senate GOP have used the filibuster nearly constantly over the last two years in an effort to hold up Democratic priorities.

“It is far too ironic that last night, Senate Republicans prevented debate on a resolution the sole purpose of which is to restore true debate. If that does not exemplify the challenges that the Senate faces, I do not know what will,” says Harkin, the only one of the three not a freshman senator. “Reform is not about one party or one agenda gaining an unfair advantage; it is about the Senate as an institution operating more fairly, effectively and democratically. Unfortunately, because of the extraordinary abuse of the filibuster, the ability of our government to address critical problems is severely jeopardized. While we will continue to fight for a government that can address our nation’s challenges, Senate Republicans continued to stand for gridlock, obstruction and a continued broken government.”

Since 2006, there have been more filibusters than the total between 1920 and 1980, the Democratic trio note. As a result, 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, they add in a joint statement.

The three reformers say they will continue to fight for their cause.

“Reform is not for the short-winded,” says Udall. “After witnessing years of obstruction and abuse of the Senate rules, I first proposed the Constitutional Option last year to tackle the Senate’s dysfunction head-on with a simple majority vote. While I’m disappointed this body lacks the necessary will to enact truly substantive reforms, we have certainly succeeded in bringing reform to the forefront and shining a light on the sources of our dysfunction. In the long term, this fight is far from over and I’m committed making sure the Senate is more than just a graveyard for good ideas and we are able to address the challenges we face as a nation.”

The rules reform resolution introduced by the three Democrats proposed to 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.
  • The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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