Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, March 29, 2013

Washington DC – A range of observers this week, including Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), continued to highlight the need for Senate rules reform, in order to raise the costs of obstruction and in order to improve the basic functioning of government.

Quotes of the Week

  • Senator Udall urges continued focus on Senate rules reform throughout the congressional calendar, at a Bipartisan Policy Center discussion: “I think throughout the Congress, we need to highlight…talk about this throughout the year. We’ve had a great example here with Hagel and Halligan. Here you had them come up in the same week, both filibustered, Rand Paul went to the floor on one and she [Halligan] – who I think was one of the best qualified people before us – languished and we don’t know where that’s going to go. I think we need to take the circumstances that we have throughout the year and highlight those and once again keep talking about rules reform and build the case.” 

  • Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice on the withdrawal of Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the DC Circuit court: “The withdrawal of this highly-qualified nominee is one more illustration of the extent to which Republicans have used unprecedented, partisan obstruction to hijack the United States Senate.  It is still another indication, as if any were needed, that Senate Democrats need to revisit Senate rules reform, and stand up to the tyranny of the minority … We are confident that President Obama now will press ahead with nominating individuals to fill all three D.C. Circuit vacancies still without nominees – and will make the fight for these nominees a top priority.”  

Coverage & Analysis

  • Charlie Cook, National Journal: “In the Senate, between filibusters and the even more pernicious legislative ‘hold,’ it is little wonder why House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has come to refer to the upper chamber as “a cemetery where legislation goes to die … Thoughtful members of Congress should now consider the implications of their actions and contemplate reforms and change practices. Getting rid of the filibuster would change the nature and purpose of the Senate and should be avoided. But reforming the process, starting with getting rid of double-tracking and putting strict time limits on holds, would be a start. ” 
  • Bob Franken, Nationwide Syndicated Column: “He needs to reconsider. It’s not just judgeships that have been stymied, although arguably they are a president’s most important appointments because of their lifetime tenure. The obstructionism has ranged far beyond jurisprudence. Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been stuck in this labyrinth. He’s laboring as bureau head under a so-called recess appointment, but it’s not the real deal. He’s effectively constrained from imposing the strong protection he espouses against predatory manufacturers, merchants and banks. The Republicans claim his agency needs more oversight, but Democrats charge they are creating a smokescreen on behalf of their wealthy corporate patrons who find any oversight to be poison.”
  • Juan Williams, The Hill: “The GOP is betting that voters will blame Democrats for the dysfunction in Congress as much as they blame the GOP. And so far, the bet is paying off, because the press is failing to call out the GOP for an extreme and nasty political strategy of demanding a super-majority of 60 votes —the votes required to break a filibuster — to get anything done. There is, however, one thing that could end the GOP blockade and shake up the ossified politics of D.C. And that is filibuster reform. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) want to require senators to come to the floor to speak during a filibuster. No more silent filibusters based on threats.”
  • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “It's also a test of the Senate rules agreed to in January by way of filibuster reform. Reid could move the bill without a motion to proceed, the motion these three say they will oppose, under the new agreement by a new process that guarantees votes on two amendments for each party. With agreement on those amendments, the bill would move into consideration. A senior Democratic aide told Roll Call that Reid wouldn't rule out using this new rule and that every procedural option is on the table. The objecting senators could still filibuster final passage, however … It's a chance to see what the new rules got Reid, at least.”
  • Steve Benen, MSNBC: “And since Republicans face no adverse consequences for these tactics whatsoever -- on the contrary, the GOP is rewarded for its intransigence -- Obama will nominate other qualified jurists for the bench, and Republicans will continue to reflexively block them, too … I'd like to think it's painfully obvious by now that Senate Democratic leaders made a mistake with their filibuster reform "compromise" in January, but the collapse of Halligan's nomination should serve as a powerful case study in the extent to which the status quo is untenable.”

The Costs of Obstruction

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democrats have so far declined opportunities to meaningfully reform Senate rules, which currently allow the minority to freely and easily stand in the way of any legislation, nominees or appointments they find objectionable, even if it means crippling an agency. And as the Cannelton miners have witnessed, a paralyzed system has a way of abetting the deep-pocketed and powerful, leaving average citizens to fend for themselves, at least while they're still alive. Three of the Cannelton miners have died while waiting for their reinstatements.”

-Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, “Board Games: How the Collapse Of The Senate Has Crippled The NLRB And Damaged Lives” 

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