Friday, January 04, 2013
Senators Introduce Rules Resolution to Restore Senate Debate and Accountability
Press release from Senator Udall's office:
U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) today introduced a resolution to enact meaningful Senate rules reforms that would end filibuster abuse and restore debate to the chamber.
In accordance with Article 1, section 5 of the Constitution, a majority of senators have the power to adopt or amend the operating rules of the chamber at the beginning of a new Congress, a procedure known as the Constitutional Option. Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate will remain in the first legislative day of the 113th Congress after the Senate reconvenes on Jan. 22 to allow debate on the rules reforms.
The unprecedented abuse of the filibuster and other procedural rules has resulted in endless gridlock on legislation and the consideration of nominations, which made the 112th Congress one of the most unproductive of all time. The trio’s proposed reforms would protect the rights of the minority while expediting the consideration of legislation and nominations.
For a fact sheet and to read the resolution submitted by the senators, click and .
“We have the power to change the Senate from being a graveyard for good ideas, to an institution that can respond effectively to the challenges facing our nation,” said Udall. “Our proposal is simple, limited and fair. We make reasonable changes to nominations and conference committees and do away with the status quo of stealth and silent filibusters that prevents the Senate from getting its work done.”
”These last two years have created an unprecedented sense among the American people that Congress isn’t measuring up to the needs of our time,” Merkley said. “The filibuster, once used only on issues of personal principle, is now used as an instrument of partisan politics. It hurts our ability to take on the big challenges we face as Americans. And we need to fix it. We must put an end to the secret, silent filibuster that is haunting the Senate.”
“The abuse of the filibuster in recent years has fundamentally changed the character of the Senate and our entire system of government,” said Harkin. “While I believe that a majority of the people’s representatives should be able to act, at the very least, if the right to filibuster is going to be maintained, Senators should have to actually make arguments, debate, and deliberate. Senators should have to obstruct in public, and be held accountable for that obstructionism.”
A key component of the senators’ proposal is the “talking filibuster.”
Today, a senator can filibuster legislation or a nominee with a simple phone call. This raises the threshold for the Senate to debate a bill, or confirm a nominee, from a simple majority to three-fifths of the Senate, and the senator is not required to publicly state his or her objection. The proposed reforms will require a senator to speak on the floor in order to filibuster, greatly increasing public accountability and requiring time and energy if the minority wants to use this tool to obstruct the Senate.
To illustrate why the rules must be reformed, the senators point to the skyrocketing use of the filibuster in recent decades as a tool of the minority party to block votes on legislation, judicial vacancies and presidential appointees. Since its inception, use of the cloture vote has evolved from a rarity, perhaps seven or eight times during a congressional session, to what is now the standard of business in the Senate. Since 2006, the filibuster has been used almost 400 times.
The rules reform package includes four provisions that would do the following:
- Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed: Clears a path to debate by making motions to proceed not subject to a filibuster, but providing two hours of debate.
- Require a Talking Filibuster: Forces Senators who filibuster to actually speak on the floor, greatly increasing public accountability and requiring time and energy if the minority wants to use this tool to obstruct the Senate.
- Expedite Nominations: Reduces post-cloture debate on nominations from 30 hours to 2 hours, except for Supreme Court Justices (for whom the current 30 hours would remain intact).
- Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Establish a Conference Committee: Reduces the steps to establish a conference committee from three motions to one, and limits debate the consolidated motion to 2 hours.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
NYT Editorializes on Senator Tom Udall's Filibuster Reform Efforts
On November 12th New York Times ran an editorial “A New Chance for the Senate.”
The New York Times once again reaffirmed its support for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall's efforts to alleviate gridlock and filibuster abuse. The chart to the right is a history of filibuster use. This chart alone is proof positive that our current modern republicans have no intention on doing what is right for America in 2012.
The last paragraph of the editorial talks about the newly elected Senators. Our own NM Senator Elect Martin Heinrich is one of these gentleman. Senator elect Heinrich has stated he is very much in favor of filibuster reform, "I support Senator Tom Udall's efforts to reform the filibuster through the constitutional option. I look forward to working alongside Senator Udall to ensure that the Senate rules do not result in gridlock or prevent vital legislation from moving forward."
The proposal by Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Jeff Merkley presented Nov 12, 2012 can he seen here.
Following are excerpts from the editorial:
“In May, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, was furious at yet another obstructionist filibuster by Senate Republicans. He admitted then that he was wrong in 2011 not to change the Senate’s rules when he had a chance,” wrote the Times.
“’These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn’t,’ he said, referring to Tom Udall of New Mexico and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who came up with a plan to reduce filibuster abuse that he rejected. ‘They were right. The rest of us were wrong, or most of us, anyway. What a shame.’”
“It was a shame, a missed opportunity that helped give Republicans a big cudgel over the last two years. But now Mr. Reid has a chance to rectify that mistake. In January, at the beginning of the next session of the United States Senate, Democrats can vastly improve the efficiency of Congress and reduce filibuster abuse with a simple-majority vote. This time they need to seize the moment.”
"In the last two Congressional terms, Republicans have brought 275 filibusters that Democrats have been forced to try to break. That is by far the highest number in Congressional history, and more than twice the amount in the previous two terms."
"Every new crop of senators brings the potential for moving away from hoary rules and traditions that have virtually crippled American lawmaking. Next year, 12 new senators will join the chamber, only three of whom are Republicans. Many of the others are younger, more liberal and more feisty than the ones they replaced, and several have already expressed support for ending legislative abuse. They should make sure that Harry Reid knows how they feel, so he doesn’t suffer another pang of regret."
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 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:
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Stand With Senator Bernie Sanders
First 12 minutes of Sanders' filibuster
This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, of Las Cruces.
On Friday, December 10, an authentic American hero, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the longest serving independent in the history of the United States Congress, stood in the well in the Senate and addressed a mostly empty chamber otherwise populated by Democrats and Republicans, and a body made up of women and men who apparently are too self-interested to bother to listen. If Sanders' speech fell on deaf ears, many outside those Senate chambers did hear his call to arms. In fact, Sanders' filibuster grew so popular on Friday that the high volume of web traffic temporarily knocked down the Senate video feed. Sanders quickly rose to the top topic on Twitter, here in the U.S. and internationally.
Furthermore, Sanders' address was a genuine filibuster, not the sorry Harry Reid-era wink-and-nod “filibuster” that passes for political gamesmanship in this age. Sanders fought the bad tax deal in Washington by himself; his nearly nine-hour marathon speech received the support, very briefly, of only two other Senators, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. For those who stopped to watch or listen, on C-SPAN or elsewhere, it was a stirring call to arms, a call to stand up for the values most cherished by the majority of Americans. That Senator Sanders' address, made to what has for all intents and purposes become the American House of Lords, rather than its representative Senate, was effective can’t be denied. The current holder of the bully pulpit, Mr. Obama, found it necessary to call Bill Clinton for back up in response.
Seven hours into Senator Sanders' address, in the White House briefing room together ( ), pleading for the bad deal and trying to draw the spotlight away from the Senator from Vermont. In an awkward, even bizarre, move about 10 minutes in, Obama exited the briefing room to attend a holiday party, leaving Clinton out there on his own taking questions from the press for another 30 minutes, as if he were still president. For many of us, the joint appearance only underscored the obvious. The leadership of the progressive movement is not in the White House.
Sanders on income inequality: economy's winners and losers
One of the authentic leaders of progressivism that has now emerged is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders served four terms as the independent Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. In 1990 he garnered 56% of the vote against both the Democratic and Republican candidates, and was elected to Congress. When Senator Jim Jeffords retired in 2006, Sanders was elected to fill the Vermont Senate seat. He was opposed by both major parties in each of his electoral victories save one, the Senate campaign of 2006, in which the Vermont Democrats finally joined forces with Bernie Sanders' independent Vermont Progressive Party to elect him.
At the heart of Sanders' speech on Friday was a call to arms for all progressives to stand and fight for middle-class and working-class Americans. On Friday he attacked the wrong-headed deals between so-called leadership in both major parties that would gut Social Security, give more hand-outs to those corporate entities that brought the economy to disaster, further monopoly combinations, and the right-wing attempt to abolish the estate tax. In his speech, Sanders frequently reminded viewers and listeners of the principles progressives have championed since the times of Theodore Roosevelt.
This bad deal is not yet passed into law. We, as progressives, need to remind our Democratic Senators who the voters who make up the base of the Democratic Party in New Mexico are, and demand they begin to show the courage to stand up for what we expect of them. We should all be contacting our Congressional leadership over the next few days to ask them to turn thumbs down on this bad deal in Washington.
To read more posts by Stephen Jones, visit our archive.
Child poverty in U.S.
Credit card companies
Senators Sherrod Brown, Mary Landrieu
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Rep. Martin Heinrich Calls for Senate to End Silent Filibuster
Keeping up the good fight! Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01) today announced that he has joined 33 of his colleagues in the House in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to end a procedural practice that allows a minority of senators to easily block important legislation. Click to read the entire text of the letter.
According to Rep. Heinrich, there are currently 290 House-passed bills that are awaiting action in the Senate -- many of which are crucial pieces of legislation that will restore our financial institutions, reforms our health care system, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, end our dependence on foreign oil and put Americans back to work. By ending the procedural practice of allowing for a silent filibuster, a small group of obstructionist Senators who choose to block essential pieces of legislation will be forced to do so in the public eye, and commit substantial time and effort to the process.
The letter states:
“The Congress has a choice between the failed policies of the past -- tax breaks for the rich, deregulation of Wall Street and letting CEOs control health care -- and the change this country truly deserves. If any Senator chooses to filibuster efforts to create jobs, crack down on Wall Street, and fix our broken health care system, then they must make that choice in full view of the American people and commit the time and effort required for such a procedure.”
Click to see our previous posts on the filibuster.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Sen. Tom Udall: The Time is Right for the Constitutional Option
This is a guest blog by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM).
A year ago, I took my seat in "the world's greatest deliberative body" as the 17th U.S. senator for New Mexico. The respect that I hold for the institution of the U.S. Senate is immeasurable, as is the pride with which I serve.
But in the past year I have witnessed an assembly that seems more dysfunctional than deliberative -- where partisan rancor and the Senate's own incapacitating rules often prevent us from conducting our business. Many of my colleagues and I were elected to the sound of a call for change. The American people sent us to Washington to put partisanship aside and take the country in a new direction. Unfortunately, the self-imposed rules that govern the Senate have stood in the way.
Inspiration for the Constitutional Option
Given that fact, I commend Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for all that he has been able to accomplish in an atmosphere of obstruction and inefficiency. But the system in its current form leads to legislation that is diluted and vulnerable to being held hostage by a single senator. At worst, the Senate has become a graveyard for good ideas.
We need to take a good look at the rules that govern the Senate and get the business of the American people back on track.
The Constitution v. The Catch XXII
While I am convinced that our inability to function is our own fault, we have the authority within our Constitution to act.
Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution states, "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings..." Yet, at the beginning of the 111th Congress, unlike in the House of Representatives, there was no vote on a package of rules that would govern the body for the two years that comprises a term of Congress. As a result, 96 of my colleagues and I (three senators had an opportunity to vote on the last change to the rules in 1975) are bound by rules put in place decades ago and make conducting the business of the Senate nearly impossible.
Specifically, under the "filibuster rule" (Rule XXII), it is not possible to limit debate, or end a filibuster, without three-fifths, or 60, of all Senators voting to do so. In the past several years, the use -- and abuse -- of filibusters by both parties to obstruct the Senate from functioning has become the norm. But it hasn't always been this way. Such cloture votes used to occur perhaps seven or eight times during a congressional session, but last Congress there were 112 - most occasioned simply by the threat of a filibuster. The use of the filibuster today dominates the Senate's business at an irresponsible level, threatening our ability to operate.
Even worse, the rules make any effort to change them a daunting process. Currently the rules for the Senate continue from one Congress to the next. However, as last modified in 1975, even attempts to change the rules can be filibustered, and in fact require an even greater threshold (two-thirds, or 67 senators) be met than for the regular business of the Senate.
When the authors of the Constitution believed a supermajority vote was necessary, they clearly said so. And while the Constitution states that we may determine our own rules, it makes no mention that it require a supermajority vote to do so. In addition, a longstanding common law principle, upheld in Supreme Court decisions, states that one legislature cannot bind its successors. To require a supermajority to change the rules, as is our current practice, is to allow a Senate rule to trump our U.S. Constitution and bind future Senates. This should not be.
The Constitutional Option
The need to reform our rules is not a partisan issue -- Senators of both parties have spoken out against the inability of the Senate to amend its own rules. Sen. Ted Kennedy, whom we all miss dearly, 35-years-ago said of the need to reform the rules, "the notion that a filibuster can be used to defeat an attempt to change the filibuster rule cannot withstand analysis. It would impose an unconstitutional prior restraint on the parliamentary procedure in the Senate. It would turn Rule XXII into a Catch XXII." And, as my esteemed colleague from Utah, Sen. Hatch, stated in a National Review article in 2005, "both conservative and liberal legal scholars, including those who see no constitutional problems with the current filibuster campaign, agree that a simple majority can change Senate rules at the beginning of a new Congress."
In the 1950s, a bipartisan group of senators had had enough. On behalf of himself and 18 others, New Mexico's own Sen. Clinton Anderson attempted to limit debate and control the use of filibuster by adopting the 1917 belief of Sen. Thomas Walsh that each new Congress brings with it a new Senate entitled to consider and adopt its own rules. On January 3, 1953 Anderson moved that the Senate immediately consider the adoption of rules for the Senate of the 83rd Congress. As the junior senator from New Mexico, I have inherited Sen. Clinton Anderson's seat and in 2011, at the beginning of the 112th Congress, I will follow in the tradition of Sen. Anderson and call on the Senate to exercise its constitutional right to adopt its rules of procedure by a simple majority vote.
My party is currently in the majority in the Senate. And as the ebb and flow of politics continues, one day we will be in the minority. But my position on this issue will remain the same. In a world that is constantly changing, our democracy requires a Congress that can respond effectively to the issues of the day without, as my colleague Sen. Robert Byrd once said, being, "obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past."
This is a guest blog by Sen. Tom Udall. This piece is cross-posted on Daily Kos. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Sen. Tom Udall Introduces Constitutional Option to Reform Senate Rules (Including Filibuster?)
Now this is very interesting, not to mention exciting. Could it have something to do with at least some Democratic Senators having had enough of the cloture rules that have been used by Republican Senators to mount filibusters against almost everything Democrats try to pass in the Senate? You know, the 60-vote requirement that needs to be met to get anything voted on for passage? Sure sounds like it.
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) today issued a statement announcing his introduction of a resolution prompting the Senate to exercise its Constitutional Option to reform the rules governing the chamber at the beginning of each session. Click to read the full version of Udall’s prepared remarks (pdf), and the resolution submitted by Udall.
Udall argues that the current practice of operating under rules adopted by previous Congresses robs a new Senate of its right to vote on its own rules and makes effective legislating nearly impossible. Since 1959, the Senate rules have included language mandating that they continue from one Congress to the next, unless modified by the body. However, Senate Rule XXII requires the approval of “two-thirds of the senators present and voting” in order to limit debate on a change to the rules. This provision, which effectively prevents the Senate from ever amending its rules, directly conflicts with the Constitution and the principle that one legislature cannot bind its successors, according to Sen. Udall.
“We, as elected representatives, have a duty to our constituents. But partisan rancor and the Senate’s own incapacitating rules often prevent us from fulfilling that duty,” Udall said in his remarks on the floor of the Senate. “While I am convinced that our inability to function is our own fault, we have the authority within the Constitution to act.”
To illustrate why the rules must be reformed, Udall pointed to the skyrocketing use of the filibuster in recent decades as a tool of the minority party to block votes on legislation, judicial vacancies, and presidential appointees. Since its inception, use of the cloture vote has evolved from a rarity -- perhaps seven or eight times during a congressional session -- to what is now the standard of business in the Senate. In the 110th Congress (2007-2008), the filibuster was used 112 times.
Udall quoted former Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, one of the Senate’s most esteemed members, “To vote without debating is perilous, but to debate and never vote is imbecile.” Udall went on to say, “Indeed, as the rules are being used today, a single Senator can hold a bill hostage until his or her demands are met. This is not the spirit of compromise and collegiality our founders envisioned for this body.”
Udall noted that his resolution to exercise the Constitutional Option is based on a similar strategy employed almost six decades ago by his predecessor, Clinton Anderson, who served as senator from New Mexico from 1949-1973. Anderson relied on the Constitutional Option in arguing that each new Congress brings with it a new Senate entitled to consider and adopt its own rules.
“As the junior senator from New Mexico, I have the honor of serving in Senator Clinton Anderson’s former seat. And I have the desire to take up his commitment to the Senate and his dedication to the principle that in each new Congress, the Senate should exercise its constitutional power to determine its own rules,” Udall said. “Let me be very clear -- I am not arguing for or against any specific changes to the rules, but I do think each Senate has the right, according to the Constitution, to determine all of its rules by a simple majority vote.”
An article in U.S. News and World Reports examines how use of the filibuster has undergone a radical shift, from protecting the party out of power to creating a tyranny of the minority.