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