Senate Rules Reform Movement Nearing Defining Moment

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate rules reform effort is entering the home stretch, ahead of the first legislative day of the new, 113th Congress.  Below is an updated look at the Senate rules state of play.  

•    As Senate Decides on Final Rules Package, Reformers Have Support for Significant Change: While we await the specifics of the rules reform package Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) ultimately decides to put forward, momentum is behind a substantial package of changes.  Reforms backed by the Fix the Senate Now coalition and similar to those proposed by reform-minded Senators, such as Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), would protect the rights and voices of the minority party in the Senate, while curbing the massive obstruction that has brought so much legislative business to a halt.   As Senator Reid said in November 2012: “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."  Of note, reformers have secured the necessary 51 votes for changing the rules via the constitutional option, if necessary.  

•    The Levin/McCain “More of the Same” Proposal: An alternative proposal unveiled last week is a, recipe for continued Senate gridlock.  As the Fix the Senate Now coalition explains in detail here, the alternative proposal advanced by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and six of their colleagues lacks transparency and accountability; allows continued minority veto of all legislative matters; still would  provide multiple chances to filibuster legislation; and would keep the obstructionist status quo for many executive branch and judicial nominees. We are hopeful that Senator Reid will advance a more substantial package of Senate reforms, as he has called for previously.

•    Fix the Senate Now Coalition Delivers Strong Support for Real Reform, Not Weak Alternatives: The Fix the Senate Now coalition will engage in a Day of Action on Thursday, January 3rd, to demonstrate the broad public support for real Senate rules reform. The Day of Action will build on coalition activities in late December, which included contacting more than 2 million members and generating texts, emails and so many phone calls that the U.S. Capitol switchboard was shut down for a time.  Coalition members also distributed flyers to Senate offices, helped to generate nearly half a million Facebook likes, and built a petition drive enabling ordinary Americans to stand up for real Senate rules and filibuster reform. Earlier this week, the Fix the Senate Now coalition released a letter signed by 30 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,” while registering objections to the Levin/McCain alternative proposal. The following 30 organizations signed the letter: 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.  

•    Major Distinctions Between 2005 Senate Rules Battle & Today: Some have tried to suggest a false equivalence between the 2005 “nuclear option” debate and the current rules reform effort.  But there are vital differences: while the 2005 push for reform sought to change rules in mid-session, the proposed constitutional option follows past Senate precedent and seeks rules changes at the start of the new Congress – when a new Senate establishes the rules under which it will be governed.  Deriving from Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution, the constitutional option has been approved multiple times since the cloture provision was adopted in 1917; the last being in 1975 when it was the catalyst for amending the filibuster rule to its current form. Of note, each time the filibuster rule has been amended, reformers used the “constitutional option” at the start of a new session to compel the Senate to act in a bi-partisan manner.  There also are big differences between what was proposed in 2005, and the reforms under consideration now: the 2005 attempt sought to eliminate the filibuster entirely on judicial nominations.  In contrast, today’s reform effort would preserve the minority’s voice and ability to filibuster, but make the process uniformly more deliberative, accountable, and streamlined through such provisions as the “talking filibuster” and only providing one chance to filibuster a bill during its legislative life cycle.  

•    Public Strongly Supports Real Senate Reform: Polling released in December 2012 demonstrates that the public overwhelmingly supports Senate rules reform to move past the unprecedented obstruction of recent years.  The public supports the concept of rules reform, as well as specific reform provisions such as the “talking filibuster” and streamlining the nominations process for judicial nominees.  

For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388,