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One of the biggest battles early next year will be over much-needed filibuster reform in the Senate. Unless we reform the filibuster, the Senate will continue to be a useless, dysfunctional mess that makes a mockery of the democratic process. Before I lay out a proposed strategy, I want to address two concerns I hear from fellow progressives about the filibuster:

1. "Who cares about filibuster reform right now? The far-right controls the House!"

First of all, filibuster reform can help us with a lot of stuff in the near term, like judges (!) and other nominations. These things don't require concurrence from the House. Also, we need to take a long view. Eventually we'll have a Democratic House and Senate again, and we need to remove all impediments to progress.

2. "We can't get rid of the filibuster! We need it for when we're in the minority!"

A couple things here. In the long-run, Democrats generally want to do more things (progressivism!) while Republicans want to do less (small government!). So even if we suffer some setbacks, we'll benefit in the super long-run. Also, if Republicans regain the Senate with a favorable map in 2014 (no guarantee), Obama will still be President. In 2016, Democrats will have an awesome map and would probably regain control. So we're not likely looking at a doomsday scenario in the foreseeable future.

Finally, on the big picture level, we are the party that wants an effective, competent government. The Republicans want to make the government stagnant and ineffective so they can sell their small-government agenda. The filibuster, no matter which party uses it, makes the government stagnant and ineffective.

The two-part strategy for filibuster reform should be as follows:

1. Get 51 Senators to sign on to a very strong proposed reform bill. At least 50 Senators have committed to reform in one way or another. Let's get them on record as supporting something strong and perhaps more importantly, threatening to GOP interests. As a reminder, you only need 50 Senators to enact filibuster reform. The constitution says that the Senate gets to determine its own rules. Basically the way the "nuclear" or "constitutional" option would work is that presumably Harry Reid would ask the chair (presumably Joe Biden if he wants to participate as President of the Senate) what the rules are for filibusters. Biden would claim that the rules are what Reid proposes. Republicans would then have the right and would seek to appeal the ruling of the chair. But, of course, to appeal the ruling of the chair, you need a majority vote, something the Republicans are not anywhere close to having!

Here's what the strong proposal should be:

a. No more motions to proceed. These motions, which can be filibustered waste up to 60 hours and allow Republicans to kill unseemly amounts of time. They basically ran out the clock using this tool during the 111th Congress. A motion to proceed should not be debatable and should be presumed adopted.

b. 41 Senators should be required to vote against cloture. Currently, rules require 60 members to vote FOR cloture, but not 41 to vote AGAINST cloture. This means that Republicans couldn't cop out by being absent or voting "present" so they can say they didn't vote to filibuster.

c. Similar to the proposal from Senators Udall (NM) and Merkley (OR), 10 Senators should be required to sign a filibuster petition, and at least one of them must be on the floor debating at all times during the filibuster. This would stop the current practice of just standing up and saying you'll filibuster, while then going to hang out at the Capital Hill Club or something. We need to make filibusters hard, not easy.

d. At least 10 Senators would also need to sign a public petition to put a hold on a nominee or bill. Gone will be the days in which one Senator holds the entire body hostage to get what he wants (lookin' at you Coburn and DeMint!). This would also put an end to secret holds. (SEE UPDATE)

e. After cloture is invoked, all post-cloture debate time should be yielded back. If 60 Senators have voted to block a filibuster, that means there should be an immediate up-or-down vote. There would still be plenty of time to debate the bill pre-cloture.

f. After two weeks, the cloture threshold moves from 60 to 55, and after one full month, a simple majority vote is required for passage of a bill. This would restore the filibuster to its original function, which was to foster debate. If Republicans really thought a bill was worth debating for that long, then fine. But filibusters can't last forever. Eventually, the Senate should have to have an up or down vote.

2. Once you get Senators to sign on to this proposal, you offer Mitch McConnell a one-time deal. If he agrees to support clauses a-e of this plan, you will abandon the most ambitious clause, clause f. Therefore, either McConnell gives bipartisan approval to significant filibuster reform, or we've gotten rid of the filibuster entirely. It's win-win!

After this election, Democrats have the leverage and the power to enact rules reform. Now is the time to get something done. Otherwise, we'll be stuck with a completely dysfunctional institution for the foreseeable future.

10:20 AM PT: UPDATE: The Daily Kos guru of Congressional procedure, Mr. David Waldman himself, makes a good point about how if you eliminate motions to proceed, that eliminates the problem of holds on nominations. I guess clause "d" would thus be unnecessary.


Should Senate Democrats enact permanent filibuster reform at the beginning of the next Congress?

94%92 votes
5%5 votes

| 97 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  It should be 41 votes against cloture. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior, ManhattanMan

    Assume yes, hence 40 votes no would still leave 60.

    And while I'm at it, why not require at least four on the floor for a filibuster?  And so on all the way down, is this just the most you feel it can be pushed?

    Overall, very reasonable.

  •  Mostly good stuff, but respectfully,... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Barnaby Tucker

    there is no need to water such reform down, in any way, to get Republican votes. That shit has to end. Senate Democrats should craft the filibuster reform that they want, and pass it.

    I also believe that any number of senators, not one and not ten, should ever be allowed to put a hold on a nominee, secret or otherwise.

    Thanks for this post!

  •  Do you think 51 will support something like this? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You have a far better grip on the details of procedure than I do. But the ideas and plan you have displayed make good sense to me. It still gives some tools to the minority, but doesn't allow one or a few to block anything they want to in perpetuity.  Thank you.

    •  Doesnt really matter, I think. (0+ / 0-)

      Filibuster reform is unlikely to pass this year, but we can at least get Senators on record as opposing it.

      We can then primary Blue Dogs with ads, "SO-AND-SO Opposed Filibuster Reform! He's for BUSINESS AS USUAL...!!"

      This will be a long fight.

  •  Getting rid of the motion to proceed... (4+ / 0-)

    or more specifically, making the motion to proceed non-debatable, takes care of the hold problem by itself.

    A hold is just an informal notice to the Senate leadership of your intention to object to unanimous consent requests to bring a piece of business to the floor for consideration. You don't have to pay attention to holds at all. It's only got power because it's a notice of intent to filibuster either the motion to proceed or the bill or both. But if the motion to proceed isn't debatable, then you can't filibuster it. And if you can't filibuster it, there's no power to the hold. Anything you want to bring to the floor, you just make a motion to bring it, and have a vote.

    Easy as pie!

  •  one additional reason to support reform - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    as soon as the Repulicans gain a majority in the Senate, they will get rid of the filibuster as soon as they want to.  And they won 't be nice and gentlemanly aboujt it - if it is in  their way it will get trampled.

    So keeping it around because we might want it later is just silly.

    And I would be strongly in favor of outright eliminating it and moving to a simple majority vote on all business.  Period.  No waiting periods, no games, no "make it harder" nonsense.  Just get rid of it.

  •  I'm not holding my breath (0+ / 0-)

    My guess is that there is already wheeling and dealing, and money changing hands to pick-off the 5-6 conservadems required to stall this.  I think that if Dems manage to get rid of secret holds and filibustering the motion to proceed, then that will have been an enormous acomplishment.

    Keep this in mind, a lot of the Dems in the Senate are just not that liberal.  And, they're all in the 1%, as well - or will be when they cash in after they leave the Senate.  When they become senators, they become senators-first, rather than Dems (this is true of  a few republicans, as well, but far fewer, it seems).  There is a lot of good lip service for this reform, but even Harry Reid treaded VERY lightly in the past.  And, some of the Senators that you'll be asking to vote for this are up for tough re-elections in red states in 2014.  What an issue this would be for their opponents.

    I actually don't think republicans will get rid of the filibuster as soon as they retake the Senate.  They didn't touch it in the past, even when they were trying to get controversial judges through.  But, I do think that if the Dems tinker with it too much first, then look out when they get control.  It is very possible that the GOP wins the White House in 2016.  No two-term president has had a truly successful second term since Reagan, and even he had Iran Contra.  And, the country seems to be structurally inclined to a GOP House (the Dems have controlled the House for all of 2 of the last 12 terms).  I don't think we're going to see another Dem House until the second term of the next GOP president.  

    And, what is the point of filibuster reform when you have a hostile House and a cautious president?  The time for that was in 2009, when Dems had 59 Senators and control of the House, and a president with a mandate.  Now, it will only serve to enflame and infuriate the Right, and fuel another tea-party high-enthusiasm wave election in 2014.  You still won't be able to legislate anything important.  I just don't see the point in doing this now, under current conditions.

    •  I disagree with your last point... (0+ / 0-)

      ...I think we're more ripe for filibuster reform now than in 2009. Then, it would look more like a partisan ploy because it was the last step we needed to take to have full control of the government. Now, Democrats can say, truthfully, that they're not doing this for partisan advantage, because anything that passes the Senate will face John Boehner's House.

  •  Disrespect (0+ / 0-)

    The coincidence of hurricane Sandy & Issac.
    It's possible this next four years may be a climate meltdown.
    I'm 61, from my generation:
    It's TIME to "Get It On!"
    What pissed me off the most in this last stonewall, was the repukes leadership NOT returning calls, to The PRESIDENT, and during crisis's!
    And the media went along with it like whores fighting for JOHNS.
    The absurdity!
    To just get them to stand & scratch their asses in public with their assinine reasons!

  •  Fili-buck the filibuster! (0+ / 0-)

    A cartoon primer on the need for reform:

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