Senator Tom Udall, who has been a vocal proponent of filibuster reform since entering the Senate, says that a new plan by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., to reform the filibuster does not go far enough to address the problems the Senate faces. Udall says it would do nothing to reduce the “paralysis” that the Senate currently suffers from.
Udall said in a statement to New Mexico Telegram that he still prefers his “Constitutional Option” to the proposal put forward by the group of Senators.
“I appreciate the work that Senators Levin, McCain, and others have done to craft this proposal. However, I am concerned that it doesn’t do enough to address the root causes of our gridlock. Their proposal does not end the paralysis, but merely shifts it to a different stage of the legislative process. As we begin a new Congress, the Constitutional Option provides a path for a simple majority of senators to enact real reforms, such as the talking filibuster.”
Another key figure in the effort to reform the filibuster is Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. Merkley told Greg Sargent that he would vote against the proposal put forward by Levin, McCain and others.
Senior Democratic Senators, like Levin and Schumer, have been wary to use Udall’s constitutional option. Udall says that the Constitution states that at the beginning of each Congress, both the House and Senate are allowed to vote on the rules for their own chamber. One of those rules is Rule XXII — which says that it takes 60 votes to invoke cloture and move forward on debate on a bill.
Udall says a simple majority of votes is all that is needed to change the rule — but only at the start of a Congress.
This is what differentiate’s Udall’s proposal from the so-called “nuclear option” where Senate Republicans, then in charge of the Senate, proposed changing the rules on filibusters midway though a Congress.
One provision that the Levin-McCain proposal lacks is requiring a “talking filibuster.” This is something that Udall has expressed support for recently.
Merkley pointed to historical filibuster battles to note that in order for the Senate to keep a filibustering lawmaker on the floor and talking, 51 other senators — or a quorum of the Senate — also has to be on hand.
“What this does is it allows bills to be killed with no evidence that it’s happening in front of the American people or on the floor of the Senate,” Merkley said.
“The talking filibuster goes right to the heart of that. It doesn’t eliminate the 60-vote, but it makes sure that everybody knows who’s obstructing, and that’s where the accountability is,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
One of the main goals of the Levin-McCain deal is to get support from both parties — not just the majority, as using Udall’s constitutional option almost certainly would.
Whether the package that Udall and MErkley prefer would even get a majority is in question. The Hill notes:
Udall, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) proposed a package of reforms for the 112th Congress that would have eliminated filibusters on motions to proceed to new business. Their package also would have required senators wanting to hold up legislation or nominees to actually hold the floor and debate, and shortened to two hours the time that must elapse after a filibuster on a nominee has been cut off.
While some Democrats who opposed the reform have left and others (namely Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) have changed their minds, there is no guarantee of success.
Incoming Sen. Martin Heinrich has expressed support for filibuster reform, but NM Telegram has put in a question to his office asking if he supports Udall’s constitutional option.