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Some of you may be familiar with the procedure proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), aimed at enabling consideration of Senate rules reform at the beginning of the next Congress. And no doubt most of you came to that familiarity by way of an interest (be it pro or con) in filibuster reform.
Udall doesn't want to tie the Constitutional Option to one or another reform. The point is the process, not the policy. He believes that the certainty of reforms will force restraint from the minority, lest the majority change the rules on them, and restraint from the majority, who realizes that the minority might win the next election and exact revenge. This sort of dynamic accountability, he says, is far preferable to a stagnant rulebook where sentences that meant one thing during one period in which certain norms governed the behavior of both parties are being exploited by parliamentary Machiavellians for entirely different purposes in another period with different norms and far more polarization.
It's important to distinguish between Udall's proposal to reform the process by which the Senate's rules can be reformed, and substantive proposals for specific reforms themselves -- such as, for instance, those made by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) or Michael Bennet (D-CO). Udall's hope is to establish a regular order under which the Senate can keep its procedural rules in fighting trim with more regularity, avoiding both abuse and the upheavals that can follow when the natural interests in reform are suppressed.
It's been noted, of course, that something quite like the constitutional option may actually available to the Senate at any time, provided a majority are willing to demand it. That's true. Though it's also true that nothing in Udall's proposal changes that, whether he's successful or not. Udall's aim, however, is to establish that if the procedure can be relied upon at regular intervals, the impulse for change in mid-session can be channeled into a more orderly process, hopefully resulting in an agreement to play for predictable periods of time by a determined set of rules.
Originally posted to Daily Kos on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 06:15 PM PST.