Thursday, January 06, 2011
Udall, Harkin, Merkley Introduce Senate Rules Reform Package, Vote Delayed Until Late January
Let's hear it (again) for a New Mexico Senator we can all be especially proud of: Tom Udall! Yesterday, Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a resolution (S.Res. 10) to reform the Senate rules that includes a package of provisions designed to increase transparency, restore accountability and foster debate in an institution where obstruction and dysfunction have pushed aside progress for the American people. Click for text or audio of Udall's remarks on the Senate Floor yesterday about the reform package.
According to an article in The Hill today, voting on the resolution has been postponed until Senators return from their Martin Luther King Jr. Day recess so that more support can be mustered for the measure or some variation of it. Because the Senate rules can only be changed by a simple 51-vote majority on the first day of the new Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used a parliamentary procedure that on paper has the Senate in recess until after the holiday break -- so, technically the Senate will still be on Day 1 when it reconvenes.
Additional approaches to the filibuster problem are also in the mix. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced a stand-alone measure -- named after the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" -- that would require only that Senators wage a talking filibuster instead of the virtual filibusters they're now allowed. And Sen. Harken has sponsored a stand-alone resolution that would gradually ratchet down the threshold needed for cloture to a simple majority. It's expected that additional proposals will surface as well, probably from Senators Chuck Schumer (D=NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Udall (D-CO), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), among others. In other words, lots of variations on the same theme of somehow reining in the bogus use of filibusters are expected to emerge amidst continuing negotiations between now and late January.
Initially, the more comprehensive resolution package was co-sponsored by the following senators: Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Joe Manchin D-(WV), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT). More have now signed on, for a total of 24 co-sponsors (not including Tom Udall). Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is not one of them.
As a statement released by Sen. Udall's office yesterday explains, the resolution comes after years of unprecedented obstruction and a historic rise in the use of the filibuster. Since 2006, there have been more filibusters than the total between 1920 and 1980. As a result of this dysfunction, in the last Congress the Senate was unable to pass a single appropriations or budget bill, left more than 400 bills sent over by the House unconsidered and left key executive appointments and judicial nominations to languish.
“Here in the Senate, open, honest debate has been replaced with secret backroom deals and partisan gridlock. Up-or-down votes, and sometimes even debate, on important issues have been unreasonably delayed or blocked entirely at the whim of a single senator,” Udall said. “The American people are fed up with it. They are fed up with us. And I don’t blame them. We need to bring the workings of the Senate out of the shadows and restore its accountability. Over the next two weeks the American people will have the opportunity to add their voices to the call for reform and I encourage them to speak loudly.”
"This reform effort is about one thing: ensuring the Senate can operate more fairly, effectively and democratically to meet the challenges of our time," Harkin said. "When I first moved toward a reform effort in 1995, I saw an escalating arms race, where each side ratcheted up the use of the filibuster. The sad reality is that, today, because of the indiscriminate use of the filibuster, the ability of our government to legislate and to address problems is severely jeopardized. Sixteen years after I first introduced my proposal, it is even more apparent that for our government to properly function, we must reform and curb the use of the filibuster."
"The clear and undeniable fact is that the Senate is broken. Thoughtful deliberation does not occur and far too much gets lost in a tangle of obstruction and delay. Our proposal will help restore the Senate to what the American people believe it ought to be -- an institution that respects both minority and majority rights and allows fair consideration, debate and decisions on legislation and nominations," Merkley said.
The rules reform package that was introduced includes five provisions that would do the following:
- Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed: Makes motions to proceed not subject to a filibuster, but provides for two hours of debate. This proposal has had bipartisan support for decades and is often mentioned as a way to end the abuse of holds.
- Eliminate Secret Holds: Prohibits one senator from objecting on behalf of another, unless he or she discloses the name of the senator with the objection. This is a simple solution to address a longstanding problem.
- Guarantee Consideration of Amendments for both Majority and Minority: Protects the rights of the minority to offer amendments following cloture filing, provided the amendments are germane and have been filed in a timely manner.
- Talking Filibuster: Ensures real debate following a failed cloture vote. Senators opposed to proceeding to final passage will be required to continue debate as long as the subject of the cloture vote or an amendment, motion, point of order, or other related matter is the pending business.
- Expedite Nominations: Provide for two hours of post-cloture debate time for nominees. Post cloture time is meant for debating and voting on amendments – something that is not possible on nominations. Instead, the minority now requires the Senate use this time simply to prevent it from moving on to other business.
Here is the full text of the resolution: