Substantial U.S. Senate Rules Reform Effort Moves Forward

Washington, DC – As the 113th Congress begins, momentum continues to build on behalf of substantial rules reform in the U.S. Senate, including the “talking filibuster.” Among the major developments:

  • Fix the Senate Now Confident that Sen. Reid & Democrats Will Stand Firm on Real Reform: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will postpone a vote on U.S. Senate rules reform until later in January, providing Senator Reid several weeks to negotiate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on a bi-partisan package of rules reforms. Notably, as a Senate Democratic leadership aide told Huffington Post, “While these negotiations take place, Senator Reid will preserve the option to make rule changes with a simple majority vote.” With several additional weeks to demonstrate the broad popularity of substantial Senate rules reform, the Fix the Senate Now coalition expects the Senate to coalesce around a substantial package of reforms, as Senator Reid has called for, with the knowledge that a simple majority vote will be sufficient to enact reforms, if necessary.
  • Senate Reform Champions Introduce Package of Needed Reforms: Rules reform champions Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) yesterday introduced S. Res 4 – a substantial package of Senate reforms that mirrors the reforms supported by the Fix the Senate Now coalition. As multiple news outlets report, the Democratic caucus has 51 votes to enact such a substantial rules reform package, should Reid and McConnell fail to reach a bi-partisan agreement. Of note, and as we explain in detail here, an alternative proposal from Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) is a recipe for continued Senate gridlock.
  • Former Republican and Democratic Senators Call for Talking Filibuster & Letting the “Senate Be the Senate Again”: A new Roll Call op-ed by former Senators David L. Boren (D-OK) and former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) calls for substantial Senate reforms, including, “Those who want to block a bill should be required to hold the floor with a talking filibuster. Our elections are premised on accountability, and citizens deserve to know which senator is holding up the process and why that senator is doing so, even if it is within a senator’s right under the rules to speak at length about any particular piece of legislation.”  The retired Senators note, “It’s plain that the present state of affairs is untenable to the American people, and confounding to many of us who served in the chamber for so many years. Let us turn away from the brinkmanship of abused legislative procedures and return with vigor to spirited debates over policy and substance. Let the Senate be the Senate again.”
  • Support Builds for Talking Filibuster: A key provision of the Merkley/Udall package of reforms is the “talking filibuster” – the provision that would add needed accountability and deliberation to the Senate. The Hill reports, “Most of the new class of Senate Democratic freshmen say filibuster reform should require senators to actually hold the floor and debate if they want to block legislation.” As Senator Merkley explained to NBC Political Director Chuck Todd on MSBNC today, “there's a lot of momentum. There is going to be a change… And unless the Republicans come to the table and say, yes, we understand, if we vote for more debate, we've got to at least have one person on the floor, making the case, then I don't think that a deal should be struck in that fashion.” 
  • Kentucky Media Highlights Report on McConnell Obstruction & Campaign Donations: As Pure Politics - Channel 2 in Louisville describes, “A campaign finance group said Thursday that Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has seen a windfall of campaign contributions from industries that benefited from McConnell’s filibusters in the Senate. The Public Campaign Action Fund — a nonprofit group that backs stronger campaign finance regulation — released a report highlighting eight instances from McConnell’s political career in which a vote or a blocked vote coincided with an influx of campaign cash.”

 National & State Editorials/Columns Highlight Need for Real Senate Reforms, Not Weak Alternatives:

    • New Yorker commentary by George Packer: “These Catos see themselves as steady hands trying to keep the hallowed old institution from being changed out of recognition by young barbarians like Merkley, Warren, and Tom Udall. But the changes have already happened, happen every day, and have come close to destroying the Senate. The barbarians are the ones who want to restore the institution to health. In the next few days, we’ll find out whether the U.S. Senate has the will to keep itself from going the way of the Roman original.”
    •  New York Times editorial writer David Firestone’s blog post: “The need for reform should be obvious, given the unprecedented level of gridlock. But it still makes long-time Democratic Senators nervous, fearing they will lose an important privilege if their party returns to the minority in the chamber. Last month, a group of senior members, led by Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, came up with a weakened proposal that would block filibusters on motions to proceed but would not require a ‘talking filibuster’… An informal compromise would represent a huge disappointment, as Mr. Reid has reason to know, since the last ‘gentleman’s agreement’ failed.
      • Billings Gazette (MT) editorial: “The Senate has wasted nearly 1,000 hours annually in recent years by delaying debate. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., supported filibuster reform last session. He recently told The Gazette State Bureau that he is supporting a rule change to require filibustering senators to talk continuously on the floor of the Senate to block a bill and to force an actual vote rather than just invoking the 60-vote rule. …Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also should support these reforms.”
      • Register-Guard (OR) editorial: “It’s time for real filibuster reform, and the Merkley-Udall proposal provides the best hope of real long-term change.”

       


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

      ###