Filibuster reform day is here. Fireworks still in the forecast?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Update, 1:35 p.m. Senators Merkley and Udall are now on the Senate floor - fighting for filibuster reform. Watch live at C-SPAN 2.

Today, the Senate is expected to take up filibuster reform. I'm not sure anyone knows what's going to happen. We may yet see the fireworks that Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) predicted a few weeks ago.

A number of reports (Politico, Time, NY Times) suggest that Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have agreed to a modest collection of minor tweaks. Here's Sam Stein at Huffington Post:

Hoping to craft a set of rules changes that will have the support needed to get through the chamber, Senate Democrats have begun scaling back the reach of the legislation proposed by some of their caucus' staunchest filibuster-reform advocates.

Lawmakers have generally agreed that the Senate should eliminate the use of secret holds, which allow members to stop votes on nominations anonymously. They have also found some agreement on a deal that would limit the majority leader's ability to "fill the tree," a parliamentary maneuver to prevent the minority party from offering amendments, "in exchange for filibustering less," a senior aide said. There also appears to be an informal deal to reduce the number of judicial and executive-branch nominations requiring confirmation.

All of those elements are contained in a package that was introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in early January. What are missing, according to the top aide, are the more far-reaching suggestions, including a proposal "guaranteeing post-cloture amendment votes for each side." There was some bipartisan agreement on scrapping that proposal, which had Democrats worried that Republicans would use it to force tough or embarrassing votes.

Other aides said it's all but certain that lawmakers would drop another element of the Udall-Merkley package that would require a filibustering party to explain, on the floor of the Senate, the reason for their filibuster.

However, according to Politico, Senators Merkley, Udall, and Harkin have rejected the compromise package:

Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Harkin of Iowa are adamant that their proposal can be adopted by a simple majority of 51 senators rather than the usual 67 required for rules changes, using a controversial legislative tool known as the “constitutional option.” ...

For Merkley, the bipartisan proposal being negotiated by leadership is no substitute for the type of lasting reforms he and others have been advocating in the Senate, said a senior aide familiar with the senator’s thinking.

“Any changes on the margins are positive but they are not the kind of substantial reforms that would change the culture of the Senate and make it more responsive to the will of the American electorate that puts them into power,” the aide said. “They may be good, but they certainly are not a substitute for more meaningful reform.”

“Whether or not we’ve got the votes now, he certainly thinks it’s an important priority to get people on the record, and he will keep the fight up long after the dust settles this week,” the aide added.


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    So, in other words, this is much ado about nothing.

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      Well, at least, there are folks who would like to make it that way -- while Senators Merkley, Udall, and Harkin are working to make it much ado about something.

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    Don't settle, Senator Merkley. Keep on pushing this.

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    Saw an interview on MSNBC (can't recall who it was this moment) on this subject a few weeks back. The interviewee thought that even if Merkley got what he was proposing that although it would make it more difficult to carry out minority rule via the filibuster, it still could be done without too much trouble. He was saying that McConnell would simply have to implement sort of a filibuster schedule where GOP reps would carry on the filibuster as long as needed. I think Chris Hayes of the Nation was the interviewer.

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      Yes, of course. But that would mean that they would literally have to hold the floor - perhaps for weeks on end.

      The nation would begin to pay attention, news media would begin to cover it, etc.

      If an issue is so important that 41 Senators want to engage in a rolling filibuster, well, the nation should be paying attention.

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        I agree that if it passed it would be an improvement in the ways you suggested, however I'm not confident that it will produce very much change over all. I think it was Ezra Klein that I was referring to who seemed to think that even if Merk's bill passed as is it would bring very little change. And I don't know what would happen as a result of "the nation" having paying attention" but I'm not that hopeful. I think a time limit on the filibuster is what's needed. Regardless of what happens, I greatly appreciate what our terrific Senator is doing.

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          I love Ezra, but he misses the point on this one. As do many filibuster reform advocates.

          Sure, Merkley's proposal would retain the 60-vote threshold for the filibuster. But only for as long as someone is talking. Once they stop talking, it drops to 51.

          Under the Merkley/Udall/Harkin proposal, a filibuster would require 41 votes AND continuous talking to be sustained.

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    Senators Merkley and Udall are now on the Senate floor - fighting for filibuster reform. Watch live at C-SPAN 2.

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