The first test for the new Senate will be whether it can overhaul its filibuster rule. Senators Merkley (D-Or) and Tom Udall (D-NM) have stepped up to lead the effort. They have influenced Majority Leader Reid (D-Nv) who last year opposed significant changes and now is open to them.
The elections added to the reformers strength. Preventing a filibuster on whether the Senate should debate legislation is a necessary change but alone is insufficient in stopping the obstructors. It is also critical for the Senate to address how it considers legislation. Overcoming the obstructers is necessary so that the Senate stops being dysfunctional.
Here’s what Merkley, Udall and their allies are trying to do:
1. Require the filibusterers to have at least 41 votes to continue. Otherwise the filibuster is broken. This changes the incentive and requires the filibusterers to produce their votes.
2. Make the filibusterers talk by being on the floor. This will require the filibusterers to talk and not filibuster silently. It will mean the opponents will have to be on the floor to engage the filibusterers and prepared to make a quorum if that is necessary.
3. Require presidential appointments, if approved by the requisite legislative Committee, to consider Cabinet, sub-cabinet, regulatory and District Court nominees.
Merkley and Udall are pushing on the inside. Outside groups, outraged by how important legislation is buried by filibuster or the threat of one, have banded together to overcome the “silent” filibuster. This reminds me of my earliest days in Washington when I worked on filibuster reform as a young liberal lobbyist. Then the filibuster was the death trap for civil rights legislation. Now it is the regular death trap for progressive legislation in domestic and international fields.
Three tests will take place: will any Republican join the Merkley-Udall effort. The previous efforts in the 1950s, 1960s and last change in 1975 had bi-partisan support. So far bi-partisanship is no longer an endangered specie. It’s extinct.
Will Majority Leader Reid support changes along the lines proposed by Merkley and Udall. So far we don’t know byt Merkley and Udall are pushing hard.
When the Senate considers change will they support changes proposed by Merkley and Udall.
We owe it to ourselves to support the Merkley-Udall efforts to reform the filibuster rules.
Stay tuned. Updates will be provided.
January 8, 2012