Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, June 28, 2013

Washington DC – Here are last week’s big developments and observations regarding Senate rules reform.  Now that immigration legislation has passed the Senate, many expect the battle over obstructed executive branch and judicial nominees to take center stage in July.  Among last week’s key developments ahead of the upcoming and renewed Senate rules battle include:

Senate Voices:

  • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), in an interview with Daily Kos’s Joan McCarter: “One is that the Republicans block them [President’s slate of nominees], and we do nothing. That is absolutely unacceptable. The second is that they block them and we say, well if you block them we're going to change the rules and they say well we won't block them. That will be essentially a repeat of 2005, when the Republicans basically said that to the Democrats. Either you stop blocking or we'll change the rules. There was a deal, and the deal involved Democrats not filibustering. Or, the Republicans say no, no deal and then we need to change the rules. And we need to change it on both executive branch nominees and judiciary nominees.”
  • Senator ‘Mo’ Cowan (D-MA), in an exit interview with the Washington Post: “Procedurally, the filibuster rules flummox me. If you’re observing all of this from the outside, it’s hard to imagine why if you get 51 votes you don’t win the day. And so I am coming to understand … the rhyme and reason behind the 60-vote super-majority.”

Commentary and Analysis:

  • Valerie Volcovici, Reuters: “[EPA Nominee Gina] McCarthy has worked for several Republican governors, including 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. She was seen by many as a choice that could work with lawmakers from both parties … But many Republicans are bitterly against proposed new regulations from the EPA on coal-fired power plants and could seek to block McCarthy's confirmation. McCarthy has received public support from industry representatives and environmental groups alike for her ability to navigate political divisions. Roy and other analysts have said opposition to her confirmation has less to do with her and more to do with ideological opposition to regulation.”

This week in the Texas state legislature, State Senator Wendy Davis delivered an old fashioned and widely-covered talking filibuster on the floor.  As Fix the Senate Now noted after U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) delivered a real filibuster, “If the Senate had adopted more substantial reforms in January, Senator Paul’s version of accountable obstruction would be the norm, not the outlier.”  A range of observers captured the distinctions between the Davis filibuster in Texas and the default obstruction in the U.S. Senate:

  • Ned Resnikoff, MSNBC: “Texan State Senator Wendy Davis was so determined to stop the passage of a bill that would have ended access to safe abortions in Texas Tuesday, that she set out to complete a 13-hour filibuster, without assistance or interruption. This was a real filibuster, not the pale shadow of the one currently practiced in the United States Senate. Under state senate rules, Davis had to speak continuously and remain upright on the senate floor without pausing for bathroom or meal breaks for more than half a day. Had she paused, exited the room, or even leaned against a pillar at any point during the filibuster, it would have come to a premature end and the Texas Senate would have been able to vote on its 20-week abortion ban.”
  • David Weigel, Slate: “Simple: Liberals and Democrats don't "hate the filibuster." They currently hate the bottlenecks of Senate debate that require 60 votes to move ahead on debates or final votes … In January they got most of their senators behind a reform plan that didn't eliminate the filibuster. It would have required opponents of a bill to hold the floor and speak against a bill if they were trying to stop it. This was what Rand Paul did; this was what Wendy Davis did. Based on what Manjoo et al are saying, it seems like the "filibuster means talking" meme runs deep. And that misunderstanding is very good for Republicans who want to retain the ability to, say, kill a gun control bill without actually having to hold the floor and speak against it.”

As nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) languish, the Supreme Court announced earlier this week they will hear the Noel Canning case this fall – the judicial pretext many Republicans are using to block the NLRB nominees from advancing in the Senate.  In light of the fact that American labor law could be inoperable by Labor Day unless the NLRB nominees move forward, the American people can’t wait a year for justice – their rights are under threat right now due to Senate obstruction, making a strong case for rules reform:

  • Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly: “Now obviously the Court isn’t going to be hearing, much less deciding, the case before the scheduled filibuster fight next month. But if it becomes apparent the Court is intervening on this issue in order to confirm the lower courts’ overturning of the traditional option of recess appointments, then it could have the short-term effect of convincing wavering Senate Democrats that there is no alternative to filibuster reform. Since the impending showdown could very easily come down to one or two such waverers, this could turn out to be a very big deal.”
  • Bruce Vail, In These Times, in a interview with President of Communications Workers of America, Larry Cohen:  “What Cohen means is this: Unless the Senate approves Pearce’s re-nomination, the voting strength of the board will fall to only two, below the three-person quorum for its continued legal operation. “That would be a dismal outcome for 80 million American workers” whose labor rights could not be enforced by the shrunken NLRB, Cohen says. Charged with implementation of the landmark National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the NLRB is the only federal government agency that has the power to enforce workers’ collective bargaining rights in the workplace, Cohen emphasizes. If allowed to fall victim to Republican obstructionism now, the damage to workers will be lasting, and perhaps irreversible, he says.”