Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, May 3, 2013

Washington, DC – As the American public continues to express frustration with the way the Senate’s rules helped to derail the popular Manchin-Toomey background check amendment, the attention has started to broaden to other areas of unprecedented obstruction in the Senate chamber.  In particular, the issue of stalled nominations is in the news and a number of observers are expressing a renewed goal of substantial Senate reform.

See below for key developments:

Member Quotes of the Week

  • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in an e-mail as reported by Talking Points Memo: It’s now clear the experiment has failed. The Senate remains broken … Senate Republicans continue to force delays — even on bills with overwhelming public support, and even on nominees widely considered well-qualified … Please join me and Democracy for America - and put yourself on record at We can’t wait any longer to make the Senate work … “The Senate is badly broken, and it’s not going to get better by wishful thinking or handshake deals … We can change this — but only if the American people insist on a Senate that works.”


  • Editorial, Los Angeles Times: “In effect, the Senate has moved from the rare use of the filibuster to force deep consideration on matters of special significance to its routine employment, creating a de facto supermajority requirement for almost all serious legislation … Senators need to return to their rules and amend them again. If they're unwilling to abolish the filibuster, they must fashion limits that allow Americans to be represented by their Senate, not thwarted by it.”
  • Michael D. Shear, New York Times: “As the White House races this week to plug holes in the cabinet, the lights remain off in essential offices across the administration. The vacancies, attributed to partisan politics and lengthy White House vetting, are slowing policy making in a capital already known for inaction, and embarrassing a president who has had more than five months since his re-election to fill many of the jobs.”
  • Former Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), in an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald: “There are several reasons our government does not respond better to problems the public wishes to see addressed. Some are hard to fix. Providing majority rule in the U.S. Senate is not one of these. And until it is, by an amendment to the Senate's rules, we will see more examples like gun control, where the score is filibuster 1 and democracy 0.
  • Julian Zelizer, Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University, in a CNN opinion piece: “The filibuster has also remained the chronic obstacle for Obama. With the constant threat of the filibuster against almost any piece of legislation, almost every bill requires a 60-vote super majority in the Senate. This makes it hard to build a coalition behind legislation and in most cases allows small factions within a party to subvert presidential proposals. Presidents usually need bipartisan support to get 60 votes, and bipartisanship is almost impossible nowadays.”
  • Jennifer Bendery, Huffington Post: “It's bad enough that there are 82 vacant federal judge slots around the country, a level so high that many observers have deemed it a crisis situation. But perhaps even more startling is the fact that of those 82 vacant slots, 61 of them don't even have a nominee. On its face, the absence of nominees would appear to be a sign that President Barack Obama is slacking. After all, he is responsible for nominating judges, and he did put forward fewer nominees at the end of his first term than his two predecessors. But a closer look at data on judicial nominees, and conversations with people involved in the nomination process, reveals the bigger problem is Republican senators quietly refusing to recommend potential judges in the first place.”
  • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “It's no secret that Senate Republicans have one purpose in political life: total obstruction of President Obama's and Senate Democrats' agenda. It's no secret that to do so, they've ground the work of the Senate to a halt with the filibuster, blocking an unprecedented number of bills and nominations, including judicial nominations. The judiciary crisis is no secret, either: nearly 10 percent of federal judicial seats are vacant and 40 percent of those vacancies are in courts that are so overburdened with cases, they've been  designated "judicial emergencies" by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts … Out of the 61 vacancies without a nominee, 25 are in states with two Republican senators and another 14 are in states with one Democrat and one Republican. The Senate is constitutionally charged with providing both advice and consent on nominations. They're refusing to do either.”

Cartoon of the Week

Senate rules reform cartoon, Roll Call


-RJ Matson, Roll Call

For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388,