Support Builds for U.S. Senate Rules Reform

Washington, DC – A range of outside observers are calling for substantial U.S. Senate rules reform to cut down on unprecedented obstruction and to again allow the chamber to function as a deliberative body.  From the re-launch of the Fix the Senate Now coalition to support from some of the nation’s leading editorial pages and political columnists, the effort to reform Senate rules is gathering steam and support.  Recent supportive commentary from outside observers includes the following:

•    New York Times editorial: “In January, at the beginning of the next session of the United States Senate, Democrats can vastly improve the efficiency of Congress and reduce filibuster abuse with a simple-majority vote. This time they need to seize the moment.”

•    Los Angeles Times editorial: “Three reforms are worth pursuing…Senators who want to mount a filibuster should have just one chance to do so…Rather than requiring the majority party to deliver 60 votes to end a filibuster, supporters of the device should be required to produce 40 votes to sustain it...Finally, it is time to make those who would filibuster a bill actually go through the exercise of doing so, and for the majority to cease yielding at the mere threat of it.”

•    Denver Post editorial: “Over the last several sessions of Congress, minority-party Republicans have increasingly invoked the filibuster to hold up legislation and judicial nominations in the Senate. With an important legislative agenda looming, it's time for the Senate to change its filibuster rules to reduce — but not eliminate — the minority's power to stop the chamber's work..”

•    The Atlantic’s James Fallows: “The best political news of the post-election era has been the array of signs suggesting that the Obama Administration and the enlarged Democratic majority are preparing the ground for a campaign against filibuster-abuse. Not against the filibuster itself, which through most of U.S. history has been a safety valve meant for extreme circumstances, when a committed minority was willing to go all out to block the majority rule by which the Senate is set up by the Constitution to operate. Rather this effort would be against filibuster abuse -- the application of this emergency measure to practically everything a legislative majority attempts to do.”

•    The Boston Globe’s Scott Lehigh: “And though it would probably be lost on McConnell, here’s the irony of his opposition to the fix-the-filibuster effort: By reducing opportunities for partisan obstruction, filibuster reform may actually encourage the kind of bipartisan engagement the minority leader now professes to value.”

•    The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin: “The most important action the Senate takes in January may not involve any legislation at all. Early next year, when the latest group of senators convene for the first time, the “world’s greatest deliberative body” may finally do something worthy of its nickname: reform the filibuster.”

•    Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore: “Progressives need to put some serious pressure on Democratic Senators to make filibuster reform a non-negotiable agenda item. It’s a bigger deal in the long run than tax rates or spending levels, and will have a large bearing over the leverage each party has in negotiations over tax rates or spending levels. Certainly threats from Republicans to obstruct the work of the Senate if the filibuster rules are changed should be greeted with the derision they deserve.”

•    The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg: “For the past three years, as I noted in that last post, the Republicans have been firing off filibusters at an average rate of a hundred and twenty-nine per year. That comes to very nearly one filibuster for every single goddam day the Senate is in session…However, if the filibustering senator or senators must actually filibuster—if they must stand up on the Senate floor and talk till they’re blue (or, more likely, red) in the face—how would it be possible to keep up the one-a-day pace? How could there not be many fewer filibusters than there are now? And how could that not be a very Good Thing?”

•    The New Republic’s Timothy Noah: “Republican threats to shut the Senate down lose their leverage when the Senate is already pretty much shut down.”

•    The Nation’s John Nichols: “What Reid is considering is not an attack on the filibuster. It is a renewal of the filibuster as it was portrayed in the classic 1939 film. Senators would still be free to go to the floor to keep debates about major bills and nominations open. They could launch filibusters to prevent the end of debate on a matter of consequence. They could use filibusters to block a final vote on a piece of legislation. That’s the way to understand filibuster reform. No one is seriously discussing doing away with filibusters. The talk is of making them real.”

•    Daily Kos’s Laura Clawson: “if you want the government to work at all, Republicans used the filibuster to block something you valued. The only people the current system is working for are those who want government to be broken.”

The Fix the Senate Now coalition includes the Alliance for Justice, the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Sierra Club, and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).

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