Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, August 16, 2013

Washington, DC – Though Congress is on recess, the issue of U.S. Senate rules reform continues to garner attention. The key comment this past week came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who pledged to revisit Senate rules reform if Republicans continue to block nominations to fill three vacancies on the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As Talking Points Memo reported, Senator Reid discussed Republican obstruction and rules reform in an interview with Nevada Public Radio last Friday, saying regarding Republican judicial filibusters, “It’s been abused, and if it continues to be abused, I am confident the rules will be changed… unless these characters who are filibustering literally everything — unless they change — I think that’s where we’re headed.” 

Other key comments and analysis this week regarding gridlock in Washington and the need for Senate reform, included:

  • Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), as reported by AgWeek: “We need to get back to regular order … The rules of the U.S. Senate are not working for America.”

    • Robert Reich, New York Times: “Congress began its summer recess last week and won’t reconvene until after Labor Day. You’d be forgiven for not noticing a difference. With just 15 bills signed into law so far this year, the 113th Congress is on pace to be the most unproductive since at least the 1940s.”
    • Editorial, Billings Gazette (MT): Top priority should be given to designated Judicial Emergencies, such the two Montana U.S. District Court judgeships. The Senate Judiciary Committee should quickly send the nominations of Judge Susan Watters and Justice Brian Morris to the Senate for approval and leadership should bring them up for floor vote just as quickly.
    • Letter to the Editor, Delaware County Times (PA): “Politicizing the constitutionally-mandated nominations process is unfortunately not new for our senator [Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)]. Last year, before the presidential election started to heat up, Toomey and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., endorsed two judicial candidates to fill long-vacant seats on Pennsylvania’s district courts. Toomey stressed the importance of filling out the vacancies soon, saying that the Middle District had been “in a state of judicial emergency since 2009.”  But later, right before the nominations were about to be confirmed in the Senate, Toomey allowed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to block the votes on the judicial nominees in hopes of having Mitt Romney elected president so that they could replace the nominations. As a result, Pennsylvanians had to wait until well after the election to address our judicial emergency. We must stop sending people to Congress who just obstruct.”
    • Politico reports on the high numbers of vacancies in the executive branch, noting that “dozens of high-level jobs at key departments that require nomination and confirmation. Even with the expected turnover of a second-term administration, that’s extremely high. And at Homeland Security — where Obama has already waited more than a month to nominate a successor to Napolitano and Republicans have already signaled a fight over her successor — and other agencies, that’s where things are stuck.  The open spots run from the Defense Department’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness, who spent seven months on the job before being formally nominated at the end of July, to Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills, who said in February that she would hold off her departure until a successor was named — and then, after waiting five months, announced she was giving up and leaving without a successor being nominated.”