Fixing the US Senate: Will Merkley get another shot at filibuster reform?

Carla Axtman

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has widely abused the filibuster as a matter of course during his tenure. Oregon's US Senator Jeff Merkley has been working to change that through filibuster reform. And now with the elections over and the Democrats with an essential mandate to move forward with their agenda, Merkley just might have the opportunity to do just that.

The New York Times:

The proposal made by Mr. Udall and Mr. Merkley last year, which we strongly supported, would have preserved the filibuster but made it much harder to use. Rather than allow a single senator to raise an objection that triggered a 60-vote requirement, their plan would require 10 signatures to start a filibuster and would then force an increasingly large group of members to speak continuously on the floor to keep it going. Senators could not hide in cloakrooms but would have to face the public on camera to hold up a judge’s confirmation, a budget resolution or a bill.

Some old-guard Democrats wouldn’t go along, fearing what might happen if Republicans gained the majority. But the gridlock just got worse. Republicans used a supermajority requirement to stymie a military spending bill; blocked the Dream Act, giving legal status to young immigrants in college or the military; and stopped a bill requiring disclosure of secret political contributions. Filibusters also held up scores of worthy executive and judicial nominations, leading us to conclude that they should not be allowed on confirmations.

Mr. (Senater Majority Leader Harry) Reid has already expressed an interest in ending filibusters on “motions to proceed,” a parliamentary tactic routinely used by Republicans to prevent debate on bills. That would reduce time-wasting in the Senate but would still allow supermajority barriers on the actual passage of bills. But he needs to go further, supporting the Udall-Merkley proposal to end “lazy filibusters” and to eliminate the filibuster on establishing House-Senate conferences, which has made negotiations increasingly rare.

The math seems to be tough, but not impossible.

The main reason progressives and Democrats should be supporting Merkley's efforts is to get Obama's judicial nominees moving. But plenty of good public policy has been stymied as well: lowering interest rates on student loans, cybersecurity improvements for national infrastructure, the DISCLOSE Act and a small business tax cut, to name a few. This Daily Kos post lists 375 bills passed by the Democratic majority in the Senate that have been blocked by Republicans.

Merkley has a shot at moving the Senate forward not just for progressives, but for everyone. Looking forward to seeing how he brings the awesome.

Comments

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    At the beginning of the Congressional term the Senate makes the rules for operation. Doesn't it only require 50 +1 or simple majority?? Already the Rs are talking about filibustering presidential nominations like Susan Rice. When that happened with GWB the "nuclear option" was invoked. How about now??

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    I would note that while everyone assumes that Angus King from Maine will caucus with the Dems, he stated publicly on election night that he is going to talk to both sides and see who can offer him what - and that one of his top priorities is filibuster reform. This gives Reid an "excuse" for doing it.

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    Just called Ron Wyden's office and was told he has no comment on filibuster reform. If any of the Senator's people happen to be reading--we need your freakin support! Please help us stop the old white right-wing minority from obstructing the progressive agenda. Your silence is unacceptable on such an important issue.

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