Fix the Senate Now

"Thanks, But No Thanks" - Reid & Senate Democrats Should Reject Weak Senate Rules Offering

Washington, DC – A handful of Senators today unveiled a U.S. Senate rules proposal that falls well short of the meaningful change needed to overcome the unprecedented Senate obstruction of recent years. Instead of a serious reform effort, today’s offering is little more than a status quo, business as usual, recipe for continued Senate gridlock.

The Fix the Senate Now coalition of over 50 national organizations urges Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to say “thanks, but no thanks” to today’s offering and to instead work with his caucus to deliver comprehensive Senate reforms.  Thankfully, alongside today’s proposal for more gridlock came the welcome news from Senate reform champions that reformers have secured the necessarily 51 votes for changing the rules via the constitutional option in January.

While we hope the Senate Democratic caucus rejects today’s salvo outright, it’s nonetheless worth highlighting the key provisions and related concerns about the package offered by eight Senators:

  • Lacks Transparency and Accountability: Instead of the “talking filibuster,” a reform that would force those wishing to block legislation make themselves public to explain their objection, today’s proposal would provide no transparency and accountability to obstructionists, continuing to allow for a silent filibuster of legislation. And it would require another “gentlemen’s agreement” between the two party leaders to promise to not object on behalf of any members of their caucus.  Recent history has demonstrated the failure of such agreements in the Senate.
  • Would Still Provide Multiple Chances to Filibuster Legislation: The Fix the Senate Now coalition has called for eliminating filibusters on the motion to proceed – a reform that along with eliminating the filibuster on multiple motions to go to conference would leave one opportunity to filibuster a bill during the legislative cycle, instead of the current four. While the package offered by the eight Senators would combine the current three motions needed to go to conference into one motion, that one motion would still require a cloture vote.  Further, the proposal would not permanently make the motion to proceed a non-debatable motion.
  • Obstructionist Status Quo for Many Executive Branch and Judicial Nominees: The reform package does not sufficiently streamline the executive branch or judicial nominations process for all nominations, as it would only reduce post-cloture debate time for select nominees.  Given the judicial vacancies crisis and the continued obstruction of qualified and non-controversial nominees, this proposal falls well short of the necessary reforms.  For example, while it would reduce post-cloture debate time for district court nominees, it would not do so for circuit court nominees.

Instead of today’s watered-down offering, which is more status quo than a serious reform package, the Senate should move forward on the following:

  • Eliminate the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed; 
  • Require that those wishing to block legislation or nominations take the floor and actually filibuster—i.e., mandating “talking filibusters”; 
  • Assert that 41 Senators must affirmatively vote to continue debate rather than forcing 60 Senators to vote to end debate; and, 
  • Streamline the confirmation process for all nominees by eliminating the currently required 30 hours of post cloture debate on a nominee to zero or at a minimum no more than 2 hours.

As polling released earlier this month demonstrates, the public overwhelmingly supports such reforms.

Senate Majority Leader Reid said in November: “I think the rules have been abused, and we are going to work to change them. We will not do away with the filibuster, but we will make the Senate a more meaningful place. We are going to make it so we can get things done."

Unfortunately, moving forward on today’s weak offering will be a missed opportunity for the chamber to make Reid’s words a reality and to live up to Reid’s vision of needed Senate reforms. 

To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/AggregatedResults.pdf

Click here to view a copy of the sign-on letter from 51 national organizations laying out important provisions for real Senate rules reform

For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org  


Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Golden State Newspapers Buzzing About Senate Rules Reform

 

Selected U.S. Senate Rules Reform Editorials – California
Los Angeles Times
Editorial: Go nuclear on the filibuster
San Francisco Chronicle
Time to say farewell to filibuster
Editorial || December 9, 2012
Vallejo Times Herald
Time to get real work done
Editorial || December 9, 2012
Los Angeles Times
Mr. Smith wants his filibuster back
December 7, 2012
San Jose Mercury News
Editorial: Feinstein should help Senate reform
December 4, 2012
Los Angeles Times
Senate filibuster in need of reform
November 25, 2012
Mercury News
If the Senate shuts down over the filibuster rules, would anyone notice?
November 29, 2012
Mercury News
Senate should alter filibuster rules
November 11, 2012
Mercury News,
Senate should change filibuster rules
January 5, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
Rules reform needed to fix U.S. Senate
January 5, 2011

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Senate fix
January 5, 2011

 

Los Angeles Times

Editorial: Go nuclear on the filibuster

December 12, 2012 

San Francisco Chronicle

Time to say farewell to filibuster

Editorial || December 9, 2012

Vallejo Times Herald

Time to get real work done

Editorial || December 9, 2012

Los Angeles Times

Mr. Smith wants his filibuster back

December 7, 2012

San Jose Mercury News

Editorial: Feinstein should help Senate reform

December 4, 2012

Los Angeles Times

Senate filibuster in need of reform

November 25, 2012

Mercury News

If the Senate shuts down over the filibuster rules, would anyone notice?

November 29, 2012

Mercury News

Senate should alter filibuster rules

November 11, 2012

Mercury News

Senate should change filibuster rules

January 5, 2011

San Francisco Chronicle

Rules reform needed to fix U.S. Senate

January 5, 2011

Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Senate fix

January 5, 2011

 

 

ICYMI: Judicial Vacancies & Additional State Voices Call for Senate Rules Reform

Washington, DC – A renewed focus on federal judiciary vacancies and additional state voices are joining the growing ranks of those calling for U.S. Senate rules reform. Developments in recent days include:
Judicial Vacancies Make Case for Reform: Robert Barnes of the Washington Post writes, “There are more vacancies on the federal courts now than when Obama took office nearly four years ago. And he is the first president in generations to fail to put a nominee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the second most influential court in the land and traditionally a training ground for Supreme Court justices.” The article echoes the findings in a recent Alliance for Justice (AFJ) report, which found that “nearly one out of eleven federal judgeships is vacant.” 
On the Post’s “Plum Line” blog, Jonathan Bernstein notes that the judicial vacancy storyline “fits the rest of the Senate story, which is that filibusters were rare up until 1993, became the common practice on all major items at that point, and then were ratcheted up again by Republicans when Barack Obama became president. This insistence on a 60 vote Senate for everything, and in delaying even totally uncontroversial nominations (so that some are delayed for weeks or more, only to wind up receiving unanimous or near-unanimous approval) is exactly why Senate reform is so urgent.”  As a result, a key provision of a potential rules reform package should address the nominations process, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.
State Voices Highlight Need for Reform: 
o Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial, “Filibuster in Need of Major Overhaul:” “As currently practiced, the filibuster is a cynical affront to voters and to the precepts of representative democracy. It does not extend debate in a meaningful way. It does not make the Senate a deliberative body. It does more harm than good. It should be reformed at the earliest possible moment.”
o OregonLive article, “U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley Battles to Limit Rampant ‘Abuse of the Filibuster’”: “Unlike earlier eras when filibusters were used to stop amendments and legislation during debate, filibusters today are used routinely to block legislation from even reaching the Senate floor…From 2007 through 2012, silent objections to the motion to proceed have been raised 130 times. Each one requires 60 votes to erase. By comparison, the number between 1971 and 1982 was 18.”
o Lewiston Sun Journal (ME) article, “King Looks Forward to Next Session of U.S. Senate”: Maine’s newly-elected Senator Angus King (I) said, “Where we are now is not acceptable…386 filibusters in the last five years is not the way the U.S. Senate was designed to work…This is what the people of Maine sent me down there for. Everything I heard in the campaign was, 'Go down there and get something done.'”
George Will Recycles GOP Talking Points: In his recent syndicated column on the filibuster and the current rules reform debate, Will misstates the intent of Senate rules reformers, mischaracterizes the need for reform, and misleads on the actual history of the filibuster.  Will describes the goal of rules reform as making the Senate “more like the House of Representatives.” 
In fact, the package of Senate reforms backed by the Fix the Senate Now coalition would preserve the rights and voice of the minority party, while prioritizing debate over obstruction. This would return the upper chamber to its traditions and norms – it is the recent obstruction that is out of line with Senate history.  Will also parrots Senate Republicans like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) by wrongly describing the constitutional option as “breaking Senate rules.” However, as the Brennan Center for Justice explains:  “[The] Senate’s authority to change its rules by a majority vote stems directly from the Constitution.”  
For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org 
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Washington, DC – A renewed focus on federal judiciary vacancies and additional state voices are joining the growing ranks of those calling for U.S. Senate rules reform. Developments in recent days include:

Judicial Vacancies Make Case for Reform: Robert Barnes of the Washington Post writes, “There are more vacancies on the federal courts now than when Obama took office nearly four years ago. And he is the first president in generations to fail to put a nominee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the second most influential court in the land and traditionally a training ground for Supreme Court justices.” The article echoes the findings in a recent Alliance for Justice (AFJ) report, which found that “nearly one out of eleven federal judgeships is vacant.” 

On the Post’s “Plum Line” blog, Jonathan Bernstein notes that the judicial vacancy storyline “fits the rest of the Senate story, which is that filibusters were rare up until 1993, became the common practice on all major items at that point, and then were ratcheted up again by Republicans when Barack Obama became president. This insistence on a 60 vote Senate for everything, and in delaying even totally uncontroversial nominations (so that some are delayed for weeks or more, only to wind up receiving unanimous or near-unanimous approval) is exactly why Senate reform is so urgent.”  As a result, a key provision of a potential rules reform package should address the nominations process, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.

State Voices Highlight Need for Reform

  • Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial, “Filibuster in Need of Major Overhaul:” “As currently practiced, the filibuster is a cynical affront to voters and to the precepts of representative democracy. It does not extend debate in a meaningful way. It does not make the Senate a deliberative body. It does more harm than good. It should be reformed at the earliest possible moment.”
  • OregonLive article, “U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley Battles to Limit Rampant ‘Abuse of the Filibuster’”: “Unlike earlier eras when filibusters were used to stop amendments and legislation during debate, filibusters today are used routinely to block legislation from even reaching the Senate floor…From 2007 through 2012, silent objections to the motion to proceed have been raised 130 times. Each one requires 60 votes to erase. By comparison, the number between 1971 and 1982 was 18.”
  • Lewiston Sun Journal (ME) article, “King Looks Forward to Next Session of U.S. Senate”: Maine’s newly-elected Senator Angus King (I) said, “Where we are now is not acceptable…386 filibusters in the last five years is not the way the U.S. Senate was designed to work…This is what the people of Maine sent me down there for. Everything I heard in the campaign was, 'Go down there and get something done.'”

George Will Recycles GOP Talking Points: In his recent syndicated column on the filibuster and the current rules reform debate, Will misstates the intent of Senate rules reformers, mischaracterizes the need for reform, and misleads on the actual history of the filibuster.  Will describes the goal of rules reform as making the Senate “more like the House of Representatives.” 

  • In fact, the package of Senate reforms backed by the Fix the Senate Now coalition would preserve the rights and voice of the minority party, while prioritizing debate over obstruction. This would return the upper chamber to its traditions and norms – it is the recent obstruction that is out of line with Senate history.  Will also parrots Senate Republicans like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) by wrongly describing the constitutional option as “breaking Senate rules.” However, as the Brennan Center for Justice explains:  “[The] Senate’s authority to change its rules by a majority vote stems directly from the Constitution.”  

 

To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/AggregatedResults.pdf

Click here to view a copy of the sign-on letter from 51 national organizations laying out important provisions for real Senate rules reform

For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org  


Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Public & Progressive Support Builds for Real Reform, Not Handshake Agreements

 
Engagement in “Week of Action” and Ruling in Common Cause Lawsuit Raise the Stakes

Washington, DC – This week saw a series of important developments regarding the U.S. Senate rules reform debate. While a small number of Senators pushed for another handshake agreement, reminiscent of the failed “gentleman’s agreement” of 2011, the general public, the progressive movement, and a court ruling all made clear that another handshake is not enough. The Senate must pursue real Senate rules reform. Among this week’s developments:

Week of Action Engages Public Support for Real Reform, Not Handshake Agreements: The more than 50 member organizations of the Fix the Senate Now coalition launched a “Week of Action” this week to highlight the public support behind real Senate rules reform. Polling released last week shows the public overwhelmingly supports Senate rules changes. As part of the week of activity, the coalition contacted more than 2 million members and generated texts, emails and so many phone calls that the U.S. Capitol switchboard was shut down for a time. Coalition members distributed flyers to Senate offices, helped generate nearly half a million Facebook likes, and are continuing the petition drive enabling ordinary Americans to stand up for real Senate rules and filibuster reform. Coalition organizations participating in the Week of Action include: Sierra Club, CWA, MoveOn, UAW, Working Families Party, Common Cause, AFL-CIO, IBEW, Alliance for Justice, NAACP, CREDO, and Demos and many more. Senate rules reform champion Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) issued a new video to commend the outpouring of support on behalf of real Senate rules reform.

Common Cause Lawsuit Decision Raises Stakes for U.S. Senate to Enact Real Reform:
A federal district judge today dismissed the Common Cause lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 60-vote provision of the filibuster, and Common Cause is considering its legal options. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan did not rule on the merits of the challenge but only on standing. In fact, despite dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Sullivan stated in his ruling that the "filibuster rule is an important and controversial issue...as in recent years, even the mere threat of a filibuster is powerful enough to completely forestall legislative action." The Common Cause lawsuit has helped to ratchet up attention to the fact that the way the filibuster is practiced today – not to mention the current levels of obstruction – is not what the constitutional framers had in mind. The ruling makes clear that at this point, real Senate reform will come only if the Senate acts in January.

Letters from Fix the Senate Now and BlueGreen Alliance Document Broad Progressive Support for Reform: The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of 14 environmental and labor partners representing over 15 million members, issued a letter this week urging the Senate to stand up for the democratic process by adopting filibuster reform. The letter notes the Alliance’s opposition to the “current use of the filibuster” because “it curtails – and even outright prevents – crucial debates on key issues.” The BlueGreen Alliance letter follows on the heels of a separate letter signed by 51 national organizations in the Fix the Senate Now coalition making the case that proposed rules changes such as encouraging a “talking filibuster” are essential components of reform.

Coalition Leaders Make Case for Rules Reform on Press Conference Call: Nan Aron from Alliance for Justice, Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, and Larry Cohen of Communications Workers of America gathered on a press call on Thursday, December 20th, highlighting why Senate rules reform is sorely needed. Listen to the press conference here.

Progressive Leaders Coalesce Around Need for Senate Reform:
Among the leaders who voiced reasons why the Senate status quo is broken and that the Senate should pursue a substantial package of reforms include:

  • Nan Aron, President, Alliance for Justice: “The filibuster was intended to be used in extremely rare instances involving fundamental matters of principle – matters so important that Senators were willing to endure a little physical discomfort, stay on the Senate floor and talk for as long as it took.”
  • Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club on Huffington Post: “Leaving the rules as they are is not an option. A ‘handshake’ deal between senators won't work, either. That's all been tried before, and the problem has only gotten worse. Our nation faces too many challenges and opportunities -- spurring clean-energy growth, helping middle-class families, addressing the climate crisis -- to settle for a ‘do-nothing’ Senate.”

  • Larry Cohen, President of Communications Workers of America (CWA), on Huffington Post: “Our coalition also believes filibustering senators should actually hold the floor and speak on the subject. The American people are entitled to a debate, especially on issues that have majority support.”
  • Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause: “If a senator is determined to block a majority from passing legislation, at the very least they should have to stand up and explain why. That’s what democracy requires – the American people deserve to know who is stopping the Senate from doing the people’s work.”
  • Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP in The Guardian: “These days, a senator can block democracy while enjoying a cocktail in the cloak room. We need filibuster reform that encourages transparency and discourages cowardice.”
  • Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA: “Senators need to take the floor and talk if they want to filibuster, not phone it in. The American people deserve to know where the people we send to Washington, DC stand.”
  • Miles Rapoport, President of Demos: “It’s time to fix the Senate now so we can get back to the hard work of creating pathways to a diverse middle class and achieving a true democracy for all Americans.”
  • Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of CREW: “The Senate was designed to be slow-moving, not inert. Given the pernicious obstructionism, it is imperative the Senate adopt new rules, including filibuster reform, to ensure senators actually vote on the many issues and nominations before them.”
  • Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority: “The Republicans are abusing the filibuster and women are paying the price. The Senate Republicans have filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act."

To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/AggregatedResults.pdf

Click here to view a copy of the sign-on letter from 51 national organizations laying out important provisions for real Senate rules reform

For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org  


Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Fix the Senate Press Call featuring speakers from Alliance for Justice, Sierra Club and CWA

Fix the Senate Press Call featuring speakers from Alliance for Justice, Sierra Club and CWA

Hear Nan Aron from Alliance for Justice, Michael Brune of the Sierra Club and Larry Cohen of Communications Workers of America discussing the importance of Senate rules reform.

Download This Audio File

Editorial Roundup, December 19, 2012

The number of newspapers calling for Senate rules reform went up this week. Check out what they had to say:

“The overuse of the filibuster and the transformation of the Senate into a supermajority-approval body are a problem of bad parliamentary design.”

-- The Economist, December 14, 2012

While it has existed in roughly its current form as a tactic for blocking legislation in the U.S. Senate for nearly 100 years, it has been used more times in the last six years than through most of its entire previous history. Where it once was a legislative scalpel, it's now a blunt instrument.

-- The San Angelo Standard-Times, December 15, 2012

The 113th Congress will convene on Jan. 3, 2013, and we urge the new Senate to show that it is interested in a new way of doing business -- one that actually welcomes debate and accountability rather than allowing legislators to silently and anonymously block the people's business.

-- The Columbian, December 18, 2012

We Need to Follow Sen. Majority Leader Reid?s Advice & Actually Change U.S. Senate Rules

Washington, DC – Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reports that a “small bipartisan group of senators opposed to broad filibuster reform are closing in on a compromise package that would derail the building momentum toward a rules change in January.” While the ultimate outcome of this negotiation is unclear, already determined are two points:

  1. We need to reform the Senate rules, not “allow this opportunity for real reform to be sidetracked by another ineffectual ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ or some watered-down cosmetic changes that won’t make the Senate more functional,” to borrow the words of a senior Senate Democratic aide.  Quite simply, the current rules facilitate a Senate that is more obstructionist than deliberative. A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that the current Senate has “passed a record-low 2.8 percent of bills introduced in that chamber, a 66 percent decrease from 2005-2006, and a 90 percent decrease from the high in 1955-1956.”  The report notes, “this ‘gentleman’s agreement,’ which in part was supposed to reduce filibusters, had no discernible impact. Pledges of comity alone cannot rein in procedural abuse. Obstructionist tactics by the minority — and retaliatory measures by the majority — cannot be curbed until the rules permitting these tactics are modified.”
  2. The package of proposed rules changes are sensible and popular and deserve bi-partisan support. As polling released last week demonstrates, the public is overwhelmingly supportive of Senate rules changes, including such sensible provisions as the talking filibuster and streamlining the nominations process. The proposed package of reforms that includes those provisions would curtail routine and reflexive obstruction, while ensuring that the Senate will once again be a deliberative and accountable body.

Rather than a handshake agreement that will likely cement the Senate status quo, the Fix the Senate Now coalition calls for the Senate to follow the advice of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has publicly advocated throughout the year for the chamber to adopt real rules reforms, not handshake agreements:

  • In December, Senator Reid stated, “We’re going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this way. So I hope we can get something Republicans will work with us on.  But it won’t be a handshake…We tried that last time; it didn’t work.”
  • In November, Senator Reid said, “I think the rules have been abused, and we are going to work to change them. We will not do away with the filibuster, but we will make the Senate a more meaningful place. We are going to make it so we can get things done."
  • In July, Reid noted of changing the Senate rules, “We could have done it in the last Congress.  But I got on the Senate floor and said that I made a mistake and I should have helped with that.
  • In May, after Senate Republicans blocked the reauthorization of the Export-Import bank, Reid stated, “If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it’s tonight.  These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn’t. They were right. The rest of us were wrong — or most of us, anyway. What a shame...If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rules, because it’s been abused, abused, abused.”
  • To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/AggregatedResults.pdf

    Click here to view a copy of the sign-on letter from 51 national organizations laying out important provisions for real Senate rules reform

    For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org  


    Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Progressive Leaders Make Case for Senate Rules Reform

Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP, writing in The Guardian: “This is a crucial moment for the progressive movement in America. But if we want to make real, lasting changes in the American way of life, we need to make some fundamental changes in how our democracy works…abuse of the Senate's filibuster rule has made it even more difficult to address major challenges on the federal level. Harry Reid has served as Senate majority leader for about as long as Lyndon Johnson, but Johnson saw one filibuster on his watch, while Reid has struggled through over 350. With our archaic filibuster rules, senators no longer need to stand at the podium and pontificate as they did in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. These days, a senator can block democracy while enjoying a cocktail in the cloak room. We need filibuster reform that encourages transparency and discourages cowardice.”

Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club, writing on Huffington Post
: “The U.S. Senate is often described as ‘the world's greatest deliberative body’ -- so let's give the senators a chance to deliberate. Oh, and senators should no longer be able to kill a bill just by threatening a filibuster. We should actually make them stand up and do it. Americans get it. A new poll shows that more than 70 percent of us are in favor of changes to the Senate rules, with only 20 percent opposed. Leaving the rules as they are is not an option. A ‘handshake’ deal between senators won't work, either. That's all been tried before, and the problem has only gotten worse. Our nation faces too many challenges and opportunities -- spurring clean-energy growth, helping middle-class families, addressing the climate crisis -- to settle for a ‘do- nothing’ Senate.”

Larry Cohen, President of Communications Workers of America (CWA), writing on Huffington Post: “It is absurd that after a two-year, $3 billion presidential election, presidential appointments can simply be blocked in the cloak room with no discussion. Filibustering by the minority will still be possible, but those senators should be required to rustle up 40 supportive colleagues, so that lawmakers holding up the debate actually prove they have the votes. Our coalition also believes filibustering senators should actually hold the floor and speak on the subject. The American people are entitled to a debate, especially on issues that have majority support. Without reform, we've witnessed 386 silent filibusters during Sen. Harry Reid's six years as majority leader. Lyndon B. Johnson served six years as Senate majority leader with one filibuster.”

Nan Aron, President, Alliance for Justice: “The filibuster was intended to be used in extremely rare instances involving fundamental matters of principle – matters so important that Senators were willing to endure a little physical discomfort, stay on the Senate floor and talk for as long as it took.”

Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause: ““If a senator is determined to block a majority from passing legislation, at the very least they should have to stand up and explain why. That’s what democracy requires – the American people deserve to know who is stopping the Senate from doing the people’s work.”

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority: “The Republicans are abusing the filibuster and women are paying the price. The Senate Republicans have filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act and have blocked appointees to the federal bench who are in favor of women’s rights.”

Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA: “Big oil lobbyists get Senators to filibuster bills and the American people never know. Obstruction of legislation done in the service of the corporate bottom line is unacceptable. Senators need to take the floor and talk if they want to filibuster, not phone it in. The American people deserve to know where the people we send to Washington, DC stand.”

Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of CREW: “The Senate was designed to be slow-moving, not inert. Given the pernicious obstructionism, it is imperative the Senate adopt new rules, including filibuster reform, to ensure senators actually vote on the many issues and nominations before them.”

Miles Rapoport, President of Demos: “Americans urgently need Congress to pass shared solutions to our shared problems – on jobs, college costs and the freedom to vote, to name just a few – yet the Senate remains broken and the misuse of the filibuster is at the core of that dysfunction. It’s time to fix the Senate now so we can get back to the hard work of creating pathways to a diverse middle class and achieving a true democracy for all Americans.”

To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/AggregatedResults.pdf

Click here to view a copy of the sign-on letter from 51 national organizations laying out important provisions for real Senate rules reform

For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org  


Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Fix the Senate Coalition to Democratic Congressional Leaders: Now is Time for Senate Rules Reform

(View letter as PDF)

December 17, 2012

Majority Leader Reid, Majority Whip Durbin, and Chairman Schumer:

We are writing to express our support for your calls to reform the rules of the U.S. Senate and encourage you to move forward on a package of reforms on the first legislative day of the 113th Congress.

Facing unparalleled challenges—a languid economic recovery, crushing debt, and threats at home and abroad—the country cannot afford another two years of inaction fostered by outmoded and broken legislative institutions. In recent decades, Senate conventions have devolved to remove incentives for bipartisan comity, collegiality, and compromise. Whereas Senators once resorted to filibustering only in rare and exceptional instances of intense opposition, rampant obstruction has now transformed standard operating procedure. Today, majority rule in the Senate is the exception, not the rule.

We believe that common sense reforms will end routine and reflexive obstruction and will ensure that the Senate will once again be able to address the critical issues facing our country.

Specifically, we believe that any reform of the Senate rules must include the following concepts:

  • Eliminate the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed;
  • Require that those wishing to block legislation or nominations take the floor and actually filibuster— i.e., mandating “talking filibusters”;
  • Assert that 41 Senators must affirmatively vote to continue debate rather than forcing 60 Senators to vote to end debate; and,
  • Streamline the nomination process so that nominees will get a yes or no vote on the Senate floor, including a reduction of the required 30 hours of post cloture debate on a nominee to 2 hours.

These reforms are in the best interest of our democratic system. Recalibrating the filibuster would revive the Senate as a truly deliberative body by encouraging Senators to discuss and debate the vital issues our country must address. Requiring those wishing to slow down or halt legislation through the Senate rules to do so publically on the Senate floor would raise the costs of obstruction so that the filibuster is reserved for instances in which a dedicated minority is intensely opposed to legislation. These much needed reforms would restore accountability on both sides of the aisle.

It is our hope that such common sense reforms would secure overwhelming, bipartisan support. But the acute challenges facing our country demand the restoration of functioning democratic institutions by any constitutional means. If those who derive power and influence from the status quo continue to prevent needed change, the Constitution authorizes the Senate to adopt new internal rules and proceedings by a simple majority vote at the beginning of the new Congress.

We look forward to working with you to ensure that these reforms are enacted during the 113th Congress.

Sincerely,

AAUW
Action for the Common Good
AFL-CIO
AFSCME
Alliance for Justice
Americans for Democratic Action
Association of Flight Attendants - CWA
Brennan Center for Justice
Business and Professional People for the Public Interest
Campaign for America’s Future
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Science and Public Interest
Clean Water Action
Common Cause
CREDO
CREW
CWA
Daily Kos
Democracy 21
Demos
Fair Action Alliance
Feminist Majority
Friends of the Earth
Gamaliel
Greenpeace
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work
League of Conservation Voters
League of Women Voters
LULAC
NAACP
National Action Network
National Council of Women's Organizations
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
Natural Resources Defense Council
NEA
NOW
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Population Action International
Progressive Congress
Public Campaign
Public Citizen
SEIU
Sierra Club
Tides
TWU
UAW
UFCW
United Steelworkers
USAction
Voices for Progress
Woman's National Democratic Club
Women's Research & Education Institute

ICYMI: Americans, Academics, & Ed Boards Weigh in On Behalf of Senate Rules Reform

Washington, DC – U.S. Senate rules reform remains a hot topic in the news, with several developments that underscore the broad support behind the reform effort, including the “talking filibuster” and streamlined nominations. New polling shows that Americans in 10 states back the Senate reform effort, while a letter from leading academics and legal scholars across the ideological spectrum makes clear the, “unquestioned constitutional power of each incoming Senate to fix its own rules unencumbered by the decisions of past Senates.”

 Polling Shows Public Backs Senate Rules Reform, Including Talking Filibuster & Streamlined Nominations Provisions:
New polling conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) in 10 states found overwhelming public support for changing the U.S. Senate rules and backing for specific reform provisions, such as the talking filibuster and nominations. The poll finds that, by an 81%-14% margin, voters say the U.S. Senate “does not deal with important issues facing the country in a timely manner.” By a 61%-25% margin, the public wants their U.S. Senators to vote to change Senate rules to cut down on gridlock. The public backs the “talking filibuster” provision by a whopping a 70%-20% margin. And the public wants judges to have an up or down vote on their nominations in a more timely manner,” with 75% of respondents favoring and only 17% opposed.

National & Beltway Outlets Lift Up Poll Results & Implications:

  • Talking Points Memo: “Thousands of voters in 10 red, blue and purple states expressed disappointment with gridlock in the Senate and signaled strong support for the key pieces of Democrats’ proposal to change the rules to eliminate silent filibusters and instead require obstructing senators to occupy the floor and speak.”
  • Huffington Post: “Democratic arguments for reforming the filibuster could find traction with the public, according to a poll of 10 states.”
  • MSNBC.com: “Public support behind reforms to end gridlock in Washington is gathering speed as a new poll shows that more Americans are behind changing filibuster rules in the Senate.”

Leading State Media Highlight State-Specific Poll Findings: State-based media in the 10 states polled by PPP also noted the poll results and implications, including:

 o   In California, the Desert Sun noted that by a 62%-23% margin, California voters support the effort to “change the Senate rules to address and cut down on gridlock.” The article also highlighted Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Senate floor speech in support of rules reform earlier this week, during which she stated, “I am working with colleagues to figure out a way we can have a talking filibuster but protect the rights of the minority.”

o   In Montana, Marnee Banks of KTVQ/KXLH stated, “84% of Montanans think the U.S. Senate does not deal with important issues in a timely fashion…Since the election, there has been movement to change this process by returning to the ‘talking filibuster.’ In Public Policy Polling's new survey 76% of Montanans believe those who filibuster should have to keep debating on the floor.”

o   In North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer noted, “More than half of North Carolinians favor rule changes that would reduce gridlock in the U.S. Senate…Nearly 80 percent said that the Senate does not deal with issues in a timely manner. About 70 percent said senators filibustering a bill should have to stay on the floor debating.”

o   In Rhode Island, Ted Nesi of WPRI highlighted, that the “poll shows 81% of Rhode Island voters think the U.S. Senate does not deal ‘with important issues facing the country in a timely manner.’ Asked about specific changes, 79% said nominees for the judiciary should get an up-or-down vote; 77% said senators should have to keep debating on the floor during a filibuster; and 68% said senators should only be able to filibuster each bill once.”

Academics and Legal Scholars Highlight “Unquestioned Constitutional Power” of Incoming Senate to Adopt Its Own Rules: A letter released this week on behalf of leading academics and legal scholars notes, “The current debate over whether to alter the 113th Senate’s rules raises serious questions of policy and political judgment. We take no position on the wisdom of any proposed change. Some, however, have sought to elevate the debate to constitutional dimensions by suggesting that it is institutionally improper for a new Senate to alter the Senate’s rules by majority vote because the internal procedures adopted by prior Senates have required a two-third majority to allow a vote on a motion to alter the rules.  With respect, such a concern confuses the power to change the Senate’s rules during a session, with the unquestioned constitutional power of each incoming Senate to fix its own rules unencumbered by the decisions of past Senates. The standing two-thirds requirement for altering the Senate’s rules is a sensible effort at preventing changes to the rules in the midst of a game. It cannot, however, prevent the Senate, at the beginning of a new game, from adopting rules deemed necessary to permit the just, efficient and orderly operation of the 113th Senate.”

Top Editorial Boards Continue to Call for Real Senate Rules Reform:

o   New York Times Editorial: “the start of the Reagan years, it took, on average, a month for candidates for appellate and trial courts to go from nomination to confirmation. In the first Obama term, it has taken, on average, more than seven months… The Democratic majority, led by Senator Harry Reid, can speed up the process by limiting use of the filibuster. He can do so by pushing for a simple majority vote at the start of the January session to alter Senate rules so that every judicial and executive-branch nominee is assured an up-or-down vote within 90 days. Without that change, many judicial nominations will founder.”

o   Los Angeles Times Editorial: “This is not a venerable rule created by the Founding Fathers to protect against the tyranny of the majority, but a procedural nicety that has been altered many times throughout history. In its current incarnation, it goes much too far and has produced gridlock in Congress… Reid's plan is a nice start, requiring those who want to hold up legislation to do so publicly and to use their oratorical skills to explain why such a move is justified.”

o   Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial: “The delay-and-kill tactics are especially unseemly when you consider that the senator calling for a filibuster or a hold doesn't have to reveal himself…These refreshing changes would end the mysteries about who is blocking what, and that would make senators think twice about throwing nails on the road.”

o   San Francisco Chronicle Editorial: “Come next month, the U. S. Senate could be a different place. One of the prime causes of the chamber's dysfunction and gridlock - the right to endless debate known as the filibuster - may be curbed in the name of getting down to legislative business. It's an overdue change.”

o   Baltimore Sun Editorial: “What would the reforms look like? They might start by requiring the minority to produce at least 40 votes to sustain a filibuster rather than require 60 to break one. It would also require filibustering senators to stay on the floor and actually talk. That puts a price on the filibuster — no only in time, energy and sore throats but in political capital… Two years ago, the two leaders talked of a "gentleman's agreement" that would curb filibusters and offer more votes on amendments. But that hardly made a difference. The problem has only gotten worse, and the nation's problems are now too serious to settle for the kind of procedural gridlock that has left the Senate paralyzed. Circle the Jan 3 date. It's time some reasonable limits were put on Senate obstructionism that has gone hopelessly out of control.”

 

To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/AggregatedResults.pdf

To access the academics’ letter: visit http://brennan.3cdn.net/1b23a477c24eb03d3d_d1m6b9qda.pdf

For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org  


Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org