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Senate Dems Unveil Their Filibuster Reforms

January 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Senators Tom Udall [D, NM], Tom Harkin [D, IA] and Jeff Merkley [D, OR] have released an official outline of their filibuster reform package. As expected, it would force senators who want to filibuster to actually stand up and delay things instead of being able to filibuster by just threatening to delay. It would also eliminate filibusters on simply beginning debate of a bill, ensure that both parties can submit amendments and make it impossible for senators to put holds on bills without revealing their identity.

Check out the outline below, and let us know what you think of this reform package in the comments.

Udall-Harkin-Merkley Rules Reform Package

Blocking a vote with a filibuster used to be rare and reserved for extreme situations. Today, major bills, non-controversial bills, sometimes multiple steps on the same piece of legislation, and even non-controversial nominees face filibusters. There have been more filibusters since 2006 than the total between 1920 and 1980.

Senate rules are supposed to allow for substantive debate and to protect the views of the minority — as our founders intended. Instead, they are abused to prevent the Senate form ever voting on, and sometimes even debating, critical legislation.

Our reform resolution helps increase transparency, restores accountability, and fosters debate.

  • Clear Path to Debate: Eliminate the Fililbuster on Motions to Proceed
    Makes motion 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 secret holds.
  • Eliminates 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.
  • Right to Amend: Guarantees 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.
    This provision addresses comments of Republicans at last year’s Rules Committee hearings. Each time Democrats raised concerns about filibusters on motions to proceed, Republicans responded that it was their only recourse because the Majority Leader fills the amendment tree and prevents them from offering amendments. Our resolution provides a simple solution — it guarantees the minority the right to offer germane amendments.
  • 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 in the pending business.
  • Expedite Nominations: Reduce Post-Cloture Time
    Provides 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.

UPDATE: if you want the full text of the actual resolution, HuffPo has it.

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Comments

Abaratarrr 01/05/2011 9:40am

“Right to Amend: Guarantees 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”

this is awesome, there would have been a tier 5 unemployment extension passed last year had this rule been in place(that is assuming that stabenow would have still brought the bill to the floor knowing that the republicans could have added a provision t the bill to pay for it.)

great reporting Mr. Shaw,

mikegreen40 01/05/2011 3:48pm

I think the time has come for this to occur. It does not matter where one is on the political spectrum. This is a step in the direction of accountability. And is a much needed reform left over from the days when senators were elected by state legislatures. Although it has been changed significantly over the years. I do think that the end of stalling tactics needs to occur.

Sparhawk2k 01/05/2011 10:19am

That’s great to see. Though I’d be curious how the “Right to Amend” works in practice. It seems like there could be a fine line to deciding if something is relevant. And I wonder if submitting amendments might be used to try to slow down the process. Though the paper trail involved there might help stop that.

Toolmakersdaughter 01/05/2011 11:41am

So what I would like to know is why didn’t the Dems do this earlier if it is so important? They had total majority in both houses, why NOW that Republicans have the house do they “suddenly” introduce this reform package.

Sxeptomaniac 01/05/2011 12:10pm

Good news. It doesn’t matter what party they represent, a filibuster should be a big deal, requiring some sweat and political risk. It shouldn’t be quietly declared with the senator’s butt still planted in his desk chair.

MikeyMacD 01/06/2011 7:21am

As long as filibuster is still legal, it will still be used to stop things.

Making people speak “on topic” and preventing them from filibustering in secret will not stop a minority party from stalling legislation they oppose. That is, after all, the point of the filibuster in the first place.

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j2n 01/06/2011 7:29am

Filibuster reform is long overdue, and I’m excited by this latest push. Thanks for keeping us apprised of the latest news, Donny. Can you give us an update on where the rules change is in the process, particularly with an eye to Biden’s role and the opposition’s strategy?

Stephanie259 11/02/2011 9:58pm

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Sxeptomaniac 01/07/2011 8:14am
in reply to MikeyMacD Jan 06, 2011 7:21am

I don’t think it’s necessary to stop the minority from stalling legislation, but it shouldn’t be too easy, either. It’s become too easy to stop/stall legislation using the filibuster; as a result, it’s been used way too often, bogging down all of the senate’s work.

elfpaladin 01/06/2011 9:27am
in reply to Toolmakersdaughter Jan 05, 2011 11:41am

Actually, it was introduced first in 1995 when the Dems were in the Minority. Senator Harkin from Iowa introduced the same resolution with the same stipulations. Go to C-span, read the transcripts of what was said or even better watch the video. The Debate that happened on the floor yesterday was, for all intents and purposes, a miracle. There was actual dialogue back and forth, not an empty room with long Quorum calls.

elfpaladin 01/06/2011 9:31am

I encourage anyone reading this to stop and go to c-span.org and watch the video of the debate that took place over this resolution. That is the Senate that we need. That is the type of Senate that takes the time to deliberate and debate, but takes swift action when it is needed.

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