We Need to Follow Sen. Majority Leader Reid?s Advice & Actually Change U.S. Senate Rules

Washington, DC – Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reports that a “small bipartisan group of senators opposed to broad filibuster reform are closing in on a compromise package that would derail the building momentum toward a rules change in January.” While the ultimate outcome of this negotiation is unclear, already determined are two points:

  1. We need to reform the Senate rules, not “allow this opportunity for real reform to be sidetracked by another ineffectual ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ or some watered-down cosmetic changes that won’t make the Senate more functional,” to borrow the words of a senior Senate Democratic aide.  Quite simply, the current rules facilitate a Senate that is more obstructionist than deliberative. A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that the current Senate has “passed a record-low 2.8 percent of bills introduced in that chamber, a 66 percent decrease from 2005-2006, and a 90 percent decrease from the high in 1955-1956.”  The report notes, “this ‘gentleman’s agreement,’ which in part was supposed to reduce filibusters, had no discernible impact. Pledges of comity alone cannot rein in procedural abuse. Obstructionist tactics by the minority — and retaliatory measures by the majority — cannot be curbed until the rules permitting these tactics are modified.”
  2. The package of proposed rules changes are sensible and popular and deserve bi-partisan support. As polling released last week demonstrates, the public is overwhelmingly supportive of Senate rules changes, including such sensible provisions as the talking filibuster and streamlining the nominations process. The proposed package of reforms that includes those provisions would curtail routine and reflexive obstruction, while ensuring that the Senate will once again be a deliberative and accountable body.

Rather than a handshake agreement that will likely cement the Senate status quo, the Fix the Senate Now coalition calls for the Senate to follow the advice of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has publicly advocated throughout the year for the chamber to adopt real rules reforms, not handshake agreements:

  • In December, Senator Reid stated, “We’re going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this way. So I hope we can get something Republicans will work with us on.  But it won’t be a handshake…We tried that last time; it didn’t work.”
  • In November, Senator Reid said, “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."
  • In July, Reid noted of changing the Senate rules, “We could have done it in the last Congress.  But I got on the Senate floor and said that I made a mistake and I should have helped with that.
  • In May, after Senate Republicans blocked the reauthorization of the Export-Import bank, Reid stated, “If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it’s tonight.  These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn’t. They were right. The rest of us were wrong — or most of us, anyway. What a shame...If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rules, because it’s been abused, abused, abused.”
  • 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