After years of effort and the creating of a broad coalition of progressive groups and organizations toward reform led by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, the latest efforts to change the filibuster rules fell short yesterday. In large part, responsibility for the well-watered-down compromise sits squarely on the shoulders of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who isn't exactly known for bold leadership.
The compromise doesn't represent a total loss, but it doesn't come close to what's needed.
The deal will address the filibuster on the motion to proceed by changing the amount of debate time that would follow a cloture vote from 30 hours to four, speeding up Senate business and allowing more legislation to reach the floor. But the deal still requires Democrats to muster 60 votes to invoke cloture on that motion, despite Reid's earlier suggestion that he would bar a filibuster on that motion entirely.
An alternate route to get past the motion to proceed will be implemented as a change to the rules, and a filibuster on the motion would be barred if the majority can find eight members of the minority, including the minority leader, to sign a petition. But Democrats already have 55 members in their caucus, five short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster, so it's unclear what the purpose of getting three additional Republicans would be.
Under the agreement, the minority party will be able to offer two amendments on each bill, a major concession to Republicans. This change is made only as a standing order, not a rules change, and expires at the end of the term.
The new rules will also make it easier for the majority to appoint conferees once a bill has passed, but leaves in place the minority's ability to filibuster that motion once -- meaning that even after the Senate and House have passed a bill, the minority can still mount a filibuster one more time.
These aren't earth-shattering changes, to be sure.
Efforts to move these reforms clearly ruffled Reid's feathers. Merkley definitely shook things up in the Senate by actually asking advocates to contact specific member of the Senate Democratic Leadership in order to break the logjam. (More after the jump)
At Tuesday's closed-door caucus meeting, Merkley was upbraided by Reid for breaking unspoken Senate rules and naming specific senators in a conference call with Democratic activists last week, according to sources familiar with the exchange. "He's pissed off so many in the caucus," said one Democratic aide piqued at Merkley. "He has been having conference calls with progressive donors and activists trying to get them energized. He's named specific Dem Senators. Many are furious. He was called out on Tuesday in caucus and very well could be again today."
It's about damn time somebody shook that body up. The intractable mess that the Democrats have allowed the Senate to become required that somebody go balls to the wall to force change. Somehow, I doubt that "pissing off the caucus" is a bad thing, given the complacency and utterly mushy way the Senate Democrats appear to be managing matters.
As David Waldman at Daily Kos notes, on the surface these changes may look minor, but down the road could very well turn out to be significant:
While there is much disappointment in the decision not to use a majority vote procedure—i.e., the constitutional option—to impose broader and more powerful reforms, a close observation of the process shows that things went pretty much as expected. That is, the credible threat of the constitutional option brought Republicans to the table to talk about finding a way out. So that's a good thing. But on the other hand, we didn't really get all that much out of it, so how much was it really worth? That question hasn't been answered yet, for two reasons. First, the option still exists and is still viable to try to leverage further reforms. And second, because above and beyond the cadre of Senate Dems who were grudgingly willing to use the constitutional option for leverage, there's a growing group who believe that the Senate ought to have an opportunity to openly reconsider and vote on its rules at the start of each new Congress, whether the filibuster is in need of reform or not. That's a good thing in itself, but keeping the focus on filibuster reform for the moment, what it means is that there's growing commitment to reform inside the caucus, and more reason than ever for those who aspire to the office to commit to it during their campaigns. And time is on our side here. As new blood pours into the Senate, it is partly your doing that they come in with reform in mind. And each new senator, of course, replaces an outgoing old senator. Time is on our side, and I'll leave it at that.
So the marker has been laid, essentially. As the old and entrenched begin to lose their toehold in the body, new blood comes into the caucus ready to do the work of the people. This also demonstrates that a progressive coalition of groups can push the Senate in the right direction, albeit glacially at the moment.
And our guy, Senator Jeff Merkley, is at the core of this ripple. Stand proud, Oregonians.