Fix the Senate Now: Senate Should Pursue Most Effectual Reforms Possible

Washington, DC – While bi-partisan agreement on reforming Senate rules is a laudable goal, the substantial package of reforms needed to end the gridlock that has nearly paralyzed the U.S. Senate  should not be weakened simply to provide a bi-partisan imprimatur, the Fix the Senate Now coalition said Wednesday.

The Coalition called on the Senate to enact the most substantial package of Senate reforms possible, including what is known as the “shifting the burden” provision. This provision would require the minority to muster 41 votes to continue a filibuster, instead of forcing the majority to come up with 60 votes to end it. The final Senate reform package must raise the costs associated with Senate obstruction. Shifting the burden from the majority to break a filibuster to the minority to sustain it is one way to accomplish this fundamental goal.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) continues in bi-partisan negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), it is clear Senator Reid has support from a majority of Senators to enact a substantial package of rules changes, if the Reid/McConnell negotiations fail. Thus far, Senator McConnell has refused to support even the minor reforms offered in negotiations. The Senate and the country cannot afford another non-binding “gentlemen’s agreement,” such as the handshake deal reached two years ago, or to settle for a weak and ineffectual proposal, like the Levin/McCain offering. Bi-partisanship must advance, not derail, reform of the U.S. Senate. Below are the key updates and implications for the final days of the Senate rules reform:

  • Key Updates on Reform & the “Shifting the Burden” Provision: Ezra Klein of the Washington Post reports this morning that the reform package Senator Reid is offering to Senator McConnell includes provisions to streamline certain nominations and to eliminate the filibuster on the motion to proceed. If Senator McConnell refuses to support these minor reforms, Klein reports that Senator Reid is prepared to add a “shifting the burden” provision to the package, and to advance this more substantial package by the constitutional option. Such a reform would help raise the cost of obstruction and cut down on the unprecedented filibuster abuse of recent years.  
  • Absence of “Talking Filibuster” Increases Importance of Including “Shifting the Burden”: Reports indicate that the talking filibuster provision, which forms the heart of the S. Res. 4 package of reforms introduced by reform champions Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), will not make it into the final Senate rules reform package.  As Huffington Post reports, Senator Merkley said he would continue to advocate for the talking filibuster, but noted, “Sometimes you have to settle for the silver or bronze standard, but I’m still advocating for the gold standard.”  The absence of the talking filibuster increases the necessity of including in the final reform package the shifting the burden provision, which Senator Merkley called, a “step in a positive direction.”
  • About the Constitutional Option & Enacting Reforms: Senator Merkley noted yesterday, “Leader Reid has left open two paths to rules changes. While I’ve always thought that improving how the Senate works should be an area ripe for bipartisan agreement, it is clear at this point that the constitutional option would produce the strongest package and make the Senate more functional.” The Fix the Senate Now coalition agrees.  A rules change is necessary to repair a broken Senate. Unprecedented obstruction in the Senate has prevented deliberation, decreased compromise, imposed a minority veto on virtually all legislation, and created a crisis in our judiciary, as critical vacancies remain unfilled. The Senate has an opportunity to reform itself in the coming days.  It should take the opportunity to do so.

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