Udalls, Bennet lead charge against fillibuster abuse

Colorado’s United States Senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, are up in arms. They are mad, and they aren’t going to take it any more.

At least that is what they say about current rules that allow a small minority of senators to derail almost any legislation by fillibustering against it. Rules currently being debated by the Senate would require a senator to be on the floor while fillibustering.

A new package of reforms was introduced today by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM and Mark’s cousin).

A summary of the package, as provided by a Udall aide to The Washington Post:

Clear Path to Debate: Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed

Makes motions 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 the abuse of 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 is 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.

Earlier this week, Udall sent a letter to constituents asking them to sign a petition.

From his letter:

I’ve been in the Senate for two years, and while I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, I’ve developed a keen frustration with one thing in particular: the filibuster.

Don’t get me wrong: I have a deep respect for the Senate, and I also realize that the winds of political fortune change. But the simple fact is that, in recent years, the filibuster has been used to bring the people’s business to a halt in order to score political points — and I can’t stand by and let that happen.

That’s why I’ve introduced a proposal that will change how the filibuster works, forcing any senators who want to hold up the business of the Senate to show up and own their obstruction — instead of making empty threats while keeping our country from moving forward.

This week, the Senate is poised to change its governing rules, and it’s our best chance to fix the filibuster.

Sign my petition to change the rules to require only three-fifths of Senators present and voting — instead of 60 votes — to end a filibuster!

We must protect the rights of the minority, but our current system goes too far. I have seen bills that would create jobs and bills that fund supplies for our troops held up for days and weeks while I’ve worked day and night to help collect the 60 votes needed for cloture.

Meanwhile, the current rules allow the filibustering minority to not even bother to show up. They could be out for a haircut, dinner, or even out of town.

There’s a word for that: wrong.

My proposal changes that and forces the minority to show up and own their filibuster by changing the vote requirement for cloture to three-fifths of senators present and voting. If 100 senators are present, 60 votes are required. If 90 senators are present, 54 votes are required, and so on.

My proposal is a commonsense way to protect the minority’s rights while allowing us to get on with our job to make America work for the constituents who sent us to Washington. It’s a job I take seriously, and it’s a job I can do better with this rule change in place.

Also earlier this week, proponents of the changes rallied on the steps of the State Capitol.

The Brennan Center at New York University
recently issued a report which looks at the effect of current filibuster rules on legislation.

From a summary of the report:

When the history of the 111th Congress is written, the inability of the Senate to function as the deliberative body envisioned by the Founders will be at the center of any analysis. Time and again, the Senate failed to vote – or even deliberate – on bills that could address the serious issues facing our nation. Presidential appointees, federal judicial nominees, legislation addressing unemployment benefits, the environment, dis­closure of political campaign contributions, and myriad other critical issues have been stalled or shelved. Why? Because the arcane rules of Senate procedure have repeatedly prevented crucial issues like these from reaching the Senate floor.

In recent years, a minority of senators have used these rules to engage in relentless obstruction, imposing a de facto 60-vote requirement for all Senate business that brings the body far from its constitutional ideal. (As explained in the pages that follow, the Framers of our Constitution clearly did not intend for 60 votes to be the norm.) We are caught in a procedural arms race where stalemate often results. What has been ac­complished has been riddled with unprincipled concessions to appease filibustering senators that distend the final product.

The current situation is simply unsupportable. There can be no doubt that the anger and frustration ex­pressed by so many Americans about the inability of government to make their lives better can be directly attributed to the Senate’s repeated failure to act. To cite just one example, the DISCLOSE Act garnered strong public support, won the vote of 59 senators, but could not become law. No wonder that recent polls show that just 21% of Americans approve of how Congress is doing its job.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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