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Thread: Fix The Senate NOW

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    Fix The Senate NOW





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    What’s Broken

    The current Senate rules enable obstruction and block progress on a range of issues key to America’s future. In past years, our nation was able to move forward on landmark legislation that put in place workers’ rights, civil rights, retirement security for seniors and so much more.

    THE PROMISE AND REALITY OF SENATE RULES REFORM THIS CONGRESS

    At the beginning of the current, 112th Congress, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced a “gentlemen’s agreement” to break the procedural gridlock that kept the Senate tied in knots through most of 2010.

    A package of meaningful Senate reforms backed by reform-minded Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Tom Harkin (D-IA) and supported by the Fix the Senate Now coalition failed to achieve a majority, with one falling just two votes short of passage. However, we hoped that the modest steps away from obstruction outlined in the “gentleman’s agreement” would be honored. Unfortunately, the Senate quickly defaulted to its obstructionist tendencies.

    According to research by David Waldman of Congress Matters and Daily Kos, this current 112th Congress already has witnessed the third highest total of cloture motions ever filed. The only two sessions to see greater levels of obstruction were the immediately preceding 110th and 111th sessions.

    CONSEQUENCES OF OBSTRUCTION

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) infamously declared that his “single most important” goal was to make President Obama a “one-term president.” His playbook from the start of the Obama Administration was simple – to convince his caucus to obstruct anything and everything. As a result, to an extent unprecedented in American history, 60 votes became the needed threshold for nearly every order of Senate business.

    Republicans derailed energy and climate legislation, halted the DREAM Act, which passed the House while receiving 55 votes in the Senate, and blocked any debate on the Employee Free Choice Act, which passed the House with an overwhelming majority and garnered 59 supporters in the Senate. Most recently, in July, the DISCLOSE Act – which would have increased transparency over independent groups’ campaign spending – failed to overcome a Republican filibuster and died, despite receiving support from 51 Senators and past support from many current Republican opponents. Also in July, Senate Republicans blocked the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would have encouraged in-sourcing by providing tax incentives to companies that bring jobs back to the United States from overseas.

    Separately from blocking substantive legislation, Republicans have used Senate rules to gum up even the most basic levers of governance. As Gregory Kroger, a University of Miami political scientist and filibuster expert, said, “The Senate has ceased to be a functioning organization.”

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    How to Fix It
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    The Senate Resolution 4 rules reform package would protect the voice and power of the minority, while expediting the consideration of legislation and nominations.

    The most significant reform is replacing the current “silent” filibuster with the “talking” filibuster, so that when the Senate votes for continued debate, there is a debate, but the period of debate ends when all comments are exhausted. This will increase accountability by making the filibuster a public exercise and discouraging frivolous filibusters.

    Here are the four components of the package:

    Clear Path to Debate: Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed
    Makes motions to proceed not subject to a filibuster, but provides two hours of debate.

    Talking Filibuster: Ensures Real Debate
    Creates a “talking filibuster.” If a majority of the Senate votes for cloture, but not the 60 Senators required to invoke it – which means 41 Senators have voted to continue debate – then the majority leader can initiate a period of extended debate. This period ends, and cloture can be invoked by a majority, if at any point no Senator seeks to continue debating. This forces Senators who filibuster to actually speak on the floor, greatly increasing public accountability and requiring time and energy if the minority wants to use this tool to obstruct the Senate.

    Expedite Nominations: Reduce Post-Cloture Time
    Reduces post-cloture debate on nominations to 2 hours, except for Supreme Court Justices (for whom the current 30 hours would remain intact)

    Restore the Conference Process: Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Establish a Conference Committee
    The Senate has to take three steps in order to start the conference committee process: adopt a motion to reject a House amendment or insist on a Senate amendment, adopt a motion to request a conference committee or agree to a request by the House for a conference committee, and, by unanimous consent, authorize the chair to appoint conferees. These steps represent three opportunities to filibuster a bill the Senate has already agreed to. The proposed rules change would establish a single non-divisible motion to accomplish all three steps, and limit debate of the consolidated motion to 2 hours.

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