Why the U.S. Senate Should Pursue Rules Reform

Washington, DC – With U.S. Senate rules and filibuster reform back in the news, much of the coverage has focused on how the reform process is likely to unfold. However, as the Fix the Senate Now coalition notes today, the renewed focus on “how” the Senate achieves reform should not distract from “why” the chamber should pursue reform in the first place.  

By abusing Senate rules such as the filibuster, 60 votes are now required for nearly every order of Senate business, no matter how routine. This is unprecedented in Senate history and corrosive for our democracy. For example, during President Lyndon Johnson’s six years as Senate Majority Leader in the 1950’s, he faced one filibuster. During Harry Reid’s six years as Senate Majority Leader, he has faced almost 400 filibusters. In fact, since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007, the three successive Congresses (110th –112th) have seen the three highest total of obstructionist tactics in Senate history.

This unprecedented obstruction prevents deliberation, decreases compromise, and has created a crisis in our judiciary as judgeships go unfilled. In a new report, 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.”

Additionally, and in contrast to some of the heated charges leveled at Senate reformers, the likely package of rules reforms are sensible, measured, and deserving of bi-partisan support.  Reforms such as only providing one opportunity to filibuster legislation, requiring those blocking a bill to speak from the floor of the Senate, and streamlining the nominations process, would help return the Senate to a place where substantive debate occurs and actual governing takes place.

Both the current Democratic Senate majority and the current Republican Senate minority should embrace this effort.

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).