Momentum Builds for Strong Senate Rules Reform As Leaders Criticize Weak Levin-McCain Offering

Washington, DC – An array of national organizations and leaders are speaking out in support of a substantial package of rules reforms and against the weak Senate rules proposal unveiled last Friday to ensure a functional and deliberative Senate.

  • Release of New Sign-On Letter Demonstrating Strong Support for Real Reform, Not Weak Alternatives: The Fix the Senate Now coalition today released a letter to Democratic leadership signed by 27 national organizations and reiterating support for “a strong and common sense package of rules reforms in the U.S. Senate to be taken up on the first legislative day of the 113th Congress.” Reformers have secured the necessarily 51 votes for changing the rules via the constitutional option in January. As a result, reform advocates are calling for the Senate to reject the weak package unveiled by eight Senators. As the letter notes, “we were disturbed and disappointed by the weak reforms recently announced by a group of Senators. Their proposal is little more than a status quo, business as usual, recipe for continued Senate obstruction. Further, it does nothing to bring much needed transparency and accountability. While we appreciate tradition, we also need a Congress that works and is not mired in gridlock.”

The letter is signed by 30 organizations: AFSCME, AFL-CIO, Alliance for Justice, American Association of University Women, Brennan Center, Campaign for America's Future, Clean Water Action, Common Cause, Credo Action, CWA, Demos, Democracy 21, DREAM Action Coalition, Every Child Matters, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, IBT, MALDEF, NAACP, NEA, National Action Network, Progressive Congress, Sierra Club, TWU, UAW, UFCW, United Steelworkers, USAction, Voices for Progress, Working Families, and Woman's National Democratic Club. View the letter at:

  • National Leaders Criticize Proposal as Recipe for Gridlock: The national leaders speaking out include:

o Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice: "The Levin-McCain proposal’s silence about nominees for circuit courts of appeals and Supreme Court nominees is problematic. Given Republican intransigence over the past four years, our concern is that filibusters of these nominees will continue. All Americans need the assurance of real reform provided in the plan backed by Fix the Senate Now."

o Larry Cohen, President of the Communications Workers of America: “The Levin/McCain filibuster proposal is without merit. It is not a bipartisan compromise, but an abdication of leadership at a time when meaningful reform is possible. Their proposal bows to the entrenched power of the status quo which has failed our democracy. Senate gridlock is no longer an option for America. Real change is required to restore our democracy and we expect the Leader and a majority of Senators to use the Constitutional option to make those reforms January 3.”

o Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause: “This supposed deal is a cynical scheme to preserve the minority's ability to block all legislation without even having to engage in debate. It's hard to believe that supporters can promote it with a straight face. This continues to give a minority of senators complete veto power over the legislative process. At the very least, senators blocking action should be required to show up and talk. Senators have tried - and been suckered by - 'gentleman's agreements' to minimize filibusters. It's time for real reform."

o Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center for Justice: “The Levin-McCain proposal would do far too little to restore functionality to the Senate. We have seen over the past two years that handshake agreements cannot curb abuse of the rules. It is constitutional, necessary, and appropriate for a majority of senators to take a stand and pass meaningful Senate Rules reform on January 3.”

  • Why Fix the Senate Now Rejects the Alternative Proposal : As the Fix the Senate Now coalition stated last week, the rulespackage unveiled byeight Senators is a status quo, business as usual, recipe for continued Senate gridlock for the following reasons:

o 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.

o Allows Continued Minority Veto of All Legislative Matters: Under current rules there is no cost to obstructing a vote on a bill, and 60 votes are presumed necessary for nearly all legislation. This proposal does nothing to change that. It does not impose burdens on filibustering senators that would force them to decide what merits the lost political capital of obstruction. Instead, the proposal would simply create 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.

o 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.

o 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. By specifically exempting court of appeals and Supreme Court nominees, the deal seems to invite obstruction of those nominees.


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Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388,