Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, March 22, 2013

On Wednesday, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) bemoaned the slow pace of deliberation in the Senate, and noted that a way to remedy the obstruction is to consider “changing the rules”. Later that day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hinted at re-visiting rules reform on the Senate floor after Senator Jim Moran (R-KS) threatened to filibuster the stopgap bill in progress of passage. Meanwhile, CNS News reports that at a fundraiser on March 10, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) revealed that current plans are underway to do-away with the 60-vote threshold on judicial nominees if obstruction persists.  

While Democratic leadership threatened to re-visit rules reform in light of the laundry-list of blocked nominations by Senate Republicans, a growing number of outside observers are calling on Senate Democrats to stop talking about real reform and start implementing it.

 Quotes of the Week

  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-NY) said at a breakfast on Wednesday: “I supported Harry’s decision to try to work out a bipartisan agreement on the rules because I think it’s in the best interests of the institution, but I can tell you the abuse that we’ve seen since then is not encouraging at all … [When the moderator asked how that can be fixed, Durbin responded] “Change the rules.”
  • Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor Wednesday: “It is things like that that will cause the Senate to have to reassess all the rules because right now they accomplish so little … I’m disappointed.”
  • Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said at a fundraiser on March 10: “They just rejected on specious grounds a fine New Yorker named Caitlin Halligan for the second time … Our strategy will be to nominate four more people for each of those vacancies [in the federal judicial courts]. And if they filibuster all of them, it will give those of us that want to change the rules and not allow 60 votes to dominate the Senate but require a talking-filibuster to prevail. So we will fill up the DC circuit one way or another.”

Coverage & Analysis

  • Greg Sargent, Washington Post: “If Dems are not going to revisit rules reform, just make that clear already. Empty threats just risk further angering Dem base voters who are already ticked about the filibuster reform punt earlier this year. Empty threats needlessly inflate expectations that Dems are finally going to take real steps to deliver to their supporters a functional Senate, one that is at least somewhat more capable of moving forward with the agenda so many of them worked so hard for in the last campaign. Empty threats make Dems look weak and do nothing to discourage continued GOP obstructionism. If the status quo is really acceptable enough to Democratic leaders to forestall further action, they shouldn’t bother pretending otherwise. If this is the Senate we’re going to have to live with, Dems should just level with their voters on this point. No more feints and hints without real action.”
  • Jonathan Bernstein, Washington Post: “One is that the press should keep in mind constantly just how radical the GOP’s filibuster-everyone policy is. Treating this level of obstruction as normal misses an incredibly important story about how the government works — or, rather, how it isn’t working … Harry Reid should be threatening party-imposed reform — right now. And Democrats should be ready to pull the trigger if unprecedented levels of obstructionism continue. After all, Democrats are supposed to care if the government actually functions. They were elected to make it work. Reid and Senate Democrats should act now, or they’ll be betraying everyone that voted for them and for President Obama’s agenda.”
  • Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo: “One of the putative goals of the new rules was to limit the minority’s ability to filibuster what’s known as the motion to proceed — to stop the minority from preventing the Senate from simply debating an issue. The compromise essentially gave the majority and minority leaders more control over that choke point, but didn’t eliminate it entirely … But yet a third supposed goal of rules reform was greater transparency — preventing senators from using parliamentary procedure to hide power moves from public scrutiny. And it’s not working very well in that regard either.”
  • Timothy Noah, The New Republic: “Abuse of the filibuster is part of a larger pattern of obstruction by the Republican minority ... In the past, Democrats have hesitated to push through genuine filibuster reform (or elimination) on the grounds that it would provoke a revolt from Republicans, who would then proceed to use every other means at their disposal to obstruct floor action. At this point, though, one has to ask: How on earth could the GOP be doing more to block action than it’s doing right now?”
  • Cass R. Sunstein, Bloomberg: “But we are in the midst of something genuinely novel: an abuse of the Senate’s constitutional authority that is damaging, at the same time, all three branches of the national government.” 
  • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “You don't have to think too hard to work that one out, given the GOP's track record on filibustering executive nominations under this president. The Cordray example might be the most egregious single case—they lost the legislative battle and are taking a scorched earth approach rather than accepting defeat—but taken as a whole, these filibusters reflect a broken institution. What's more, it's an institution that's been deliberately broken by the minority. There really is only one answer: Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats have to make it clear that they're willing to change Senate rules now, mid-session.”

Laundry List of Obstruction:

  • Steve Benen, MSNBC: “It's been a couple of months since Senate party leaders struck a very small deal that tweaked the chamber's procedural rules, and proponents said the reforms would improve how the Senate did business. They were, we now know with certainty, complete wrong … What have we seen since? The first-ever filibuster of a cabinet nominee, a filibuster a CIA nominee, and multiple threats of a filibuster against the Labor Secretary nominee, Republicans have filibustered judicial nominees they don't like and judicial nominees they do like. GOP senators have promised to use filibusters to stop the Obama administration from enforcing the law as it relates to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to stop the president's nominee to lead the ATF and the EPA.”

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