The Senate Reform Proposal

Yesterday the Democrats introduced their cloture reform package, and I’d give it about one cheer.  Here’s a brief rundown on what the Majority Leader proposed.

1.  End secret holds.  Good idea, though it won’t matter all that much.

2.  Reduce the maximum number of hours for debate on nominees once cloture is invoked from 30 to 2.  Also worthwhile, especially as I wrote an op-ed arguing for this change back in October. (No doubt that left them all quaking in their boots.)  This could make a difference for some judicial and executive nominations.

3.  Remove the need to invoke cloture on a motion to proceed.  Fine, though modest.

4.  The final item is the much-vaunted “talking filibuster” change.  Unless I’m missing something, this is basically a joke.  The proposal is that if a cloture petition fails, then the minority must hold the floor as long the item that was the subject of the cloture vote is the pending business.

This is no different from the current rules–it’s entirely symbolic.  If the Majority Leader does not withdraw a filibustered bill or nomination as the pending business, he can force the minority to hold the floor continuously.  The point is that he almost never chooses to do that.  The new “rule” doesn’t make that more likely.  It doesn’t say, for example, that the filibustered measure must stay on the floor for a certain period of time after cloture is rejected.  That would have more teeth.

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2 Responses

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    I’m not sure I understand your description of number 4, but if I do, then I disagree with your characterization.

    It has long been my contention that allowing somebody to say “I filibuster” and automatically shifting the subject legislation to track 2, which is the spur that doesn’t go anywhere, has allowed the Senate gridlock we seem to suffer under.

    I believe if the minority that wants to block a motion has to actually get up and speak, they will become much more reluctant to do so for every little thing they don’t like. The price for filibuster will become visibility–their constituents will get to see them gridlocking the senate. I believe that would cause them to be more judicious in deciding which issues are important enough to do that.

    And then, if they do a “real filibuster,” then the majority who don’t have enough votes to override will have to decide whether their proposed legislation is sufficiently important to gridlock the Senate until the minority caves in.

    As it is now, Senators Mansfield and Byrd should not be proud of their “two track” system.

  2. Howard Wasserman says:

    I like your addition of a minimum time the matter must remain on the calendar. The change does make one change, in putting the onus to hold the floor on the filibustererers. During the period of unlimited debate, there can be no quorum calls. So the majority does not have to remain in chambers to keep the minority talking. A small change, but beneficial nonetheless.