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Filibuster Reigns

January 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

For the past four years, Republicans have used the Senate rules to delay all action, even on the most mundane of matters, to an extent far beyond what has ever been seen before. Still, the Democrats made it clear yesterday that they don’t have the willpower to reform the rules so they can maybe actually get some stuff done this session. Some members of the Democratic caucus, mostly junior members, have been advocating for reforming the filibuster rules to at least bring some integrity back to the process by requiring senators who want to block stuff to actually stand up and block it. Instead, the Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV], chose to keep the silent filibuster alive and pass only a couple minor changes to inconsequential rules.

The junior members had been advocating for using the majority’s constitutional right to set their own rules for the chamber by a simple majority vote. Rather than using that approach, Reid yesterday brought up series of reforms under the normal rules reform procedure knowing that all but the mildest of proposals would be rejected. Senatus runs down the action:

  • A resolution offered by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) was adopted by a vote of 92-4. It was subject to a 60-vote threshold. It would force “all holds to be disclosed to the public after one day, eliminating the ability of one senator to hijack the legislative process without being held accountable,” according to a press release.
  • A resolution offered by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) was adopted by a vote of 81-15. It was subject to a 60-vote threshold. According to a press release, it would “end the ability for a Senator to delay a vote by requiring a forced reading, out loud, of an amendment if the text is made available 72 hours in advance.”
  • A resolution offered by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) was defeated by a vote of 12-84. It was subject to a 67-vote threshold. According to a press release, this resolution would “permit a decreasing majority of Senators to invoke cloture.” It also guarantees “both parties amendments after cloture has been invoked.”
  • A resolution offered by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) was defeated by a vote of 44-51. It was subject to a 67-vote threshold. According to a press release, the resolution would provide for several reforms: (1) eliminate the filibuster on motions to proceed, (2) eliminate secret holds, (3) guarantee consideration of amendments for majority and minority, (4) implement a “talking” filibuster and (5) expedite post-cloture time on nominations.
  • A resolution offered by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) was defeated by a vote of 46-49. It was subject to a 67-vote threshold. The focus of this resolution was to implement a “talking” filibuster. A press release for a more comprehensive reform package notes that this idea would mean “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.”

So that’s it. No more anonymous holds — though holds blocking bills by a single member are still okay — and no more forced readings of legislation as a dilatory tactic. Oh, and, this was accompanied by a gentlemen’s agreement that Republicans would filibuster less in exchange for the Democrats allowing more votes on amendments.

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