"Thanks, But No Thanks" - Reid & Senate Democrats Should Reject Weak Senate Rules Offering

Washington, DC – A handful of Senators today unveiled a U.S. Senate rules proposal that falls well short of the meaningful change needed to overcome the unprecedented Senate obstruction of recent years. Instead of a serious reform effort, today’s offering is little more than a status quo, business as usual, recipe for continued Senate gridlock.

The Fix the Senate Now coalition of over 50 national organizations urges Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to say “thanks, but no thanks” to today’s offering and to instead work with his caucus to deliver comprehensive Senate reforms.  Thankfully, alongside today’s proposal for more gridlock came the welcome news from Senate reform champions that reformers have secured the necessarily 51 votes for changing the rules via the constitutional option in January.

While we hope the Senate Democratic caucus rejects today’s salvo outright, it’s nonetheless worth highlighting the key provisions and related concerns about the package offered by eight Senators:

  • Lacks Transparency and Accountability: Instead of the “talking filibuster,” a reform that would force those wishing to block legislation make themselves public to explain their objection, today’s proposal would provide no transparency and accountability to obstructionists, continuing to allow for a silent filibuster of legislation. And it would require another “gentlemen’s agreement” between the two party leaders to promise to not object on behalf of any members of their caucus.  Recent history has demonstrated the failure of such agreements in the Senate.
  • Would Still Provide Multiple Chances to Filibuster Legislation: The Fix the Senate Now coalition has called for eliminating filibusters on the motion to proceed – a reform that along with eliminating the filibuster on multiple motions to go to conference would leave one opportunity to filibuster a bill during the legislative cycle, instead of the current four. While the package offered by the eight Senators would combine the current three motions needed to go to conference into one motion, that one motion would still require a cloture vote.  Further, the proposal would not permanently make the motion to proceed a non-debatable motion.
  • Obstructionist Status Quo for Many Executive Branch and Judicial Nominees: The reform package does not sufficiently streamline the executive branch or judicial nominations process for all nominations, as it would only reduce post-cloture debate time for select nominees.  Given the judicial vacancies crisis and the continued obstruction of qualified and non-controversial nominees, this proposal falls well short of the necessary reforms.  For example, while it would reduce post-cloture debate time for district court nominees, it would not do so for circuit court nominees.

Instead of today’s watered-down offering, which is more status quo than a serious reform package, the Senate should move forward on the following:

  • Eliminate the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed; 
  • Require that those wishing to block legislation or nominations take the floor and actually filibuster—i.e., mandating “talking filibusters”; 
  • Assert that 41 Senators must affirmatively vote to continue debate rather than forcing 60 Senators to vote to end debate; and, 
  • Streamline the confirmation process for all nominees by eliminating the currently required 30 hours of post cloture debate on a nominee to zero or at a minimum no more than 2 hours.

As polling released earlier this month demonstrates, the public overwhelmingly supports such reforms.

Senate Majority Leader Reid said in November: “I think the rules have been abused, and we are going to work to change them. We will not do away with the filibuster, but we will make the Senate a more meaningful place. We are going to make it so we can get things done."

Unfortunately, moving forward on today’s weak offering will be a missed opportunity for the chamber to make Reid’s words a reality and to live up to Reid’s vision of needed Senate reforms. 

To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/AggregatedResults.pdf

Click here to view a copy of the sign-on letter from 51 national organizations laying out important provisions for real Senate rules reform

For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org  

Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org