Udall has maintained since he was elected that the unprecedented use of the filibuster by the Republican minority has shown the need for changes to the filibuster process.
One of the main pieces of the proposal put forward by Udall and Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Tom Harkin, D-Ill., is requiring a “talking filibuster” instead of the current “silent filibuster.”
The proposal (pdf) explains:
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.
Other components include eliminating the ability to filibuster motions to proceed, reducing post-cloture time on nominations to 2 hours except of Supreme Court justices and eliminating the ability to filibuster on motions to establish a conference committee.
“We have the power to change the Senate from being a graveyard for good ideas, to an institution that can respond effectively to the challenges facing our nation,” said Udall in a statement announcing the proposal. “Our proposal is simple, limited and fair. We make reasonable changes to nominations and conference committees and do away with the status quo of stealth and silent filibusters that prevents the Senate from getting its work done.”
Udall wants this to be done using his “constitutional option” where Udall notes U.S. Constitution allows both chambers to create their own rules with a majority vote on the first day of the new Congress. So, was there a vote on it today? No — and not for a few weeks now.
Any decision on filibuster reform will not happen until January 22 — which will still be considered the first day of the new Senate.
Essentially, there will be a nearly 500-hour day to start the 113th Congress. Ezra Klein at the Wonkblog explains:
The way this technically works is that Reid is “recessing” rather than ‘adjourning” for the day. The Senate is a weird place. But the filibuster reform debate is still on the way. Reformers tell me that the expected deadline is Jan. 22, or thereabouts.
If you attend the state legislature, you will see similar such procedural tricks. You might be on the same legislative day for weeks at a time — then roll the clock through multiple days in a matter of minutes.
Merkley and Harkin echoed Udall’s statement in the release announcing their proposal.
”These last two years have created an unprecedented sense among the American people that Congress isn’t measuring up to the needs of our time,” Merkley said. “The filibuster, once used only on issues of personal principle, is now used as an instrument of partisan politics. It hurts our ability to take on the big challenges we face as Americans. And we need to fix it. We must put an end to the secret, silent filibuster that is haunting the Senate.”
“The abuse of the filibuster in recent years has fundamentally changed the character of the Senate and our entire system of government,” said Harkin. “While I believe that a majority of the people’s representatives should be able to act, at the very least, if the right to filibuster is going to be maintained, Senators should have to actually make arguments, debate, and deliberate. Senators should have to obstruct in public, and be held accountable for that obstructionism.”
There is another plan that is designed to be able to get over 60 votes — the Levin-McCain proposal. Tom Udall told the New Mexico Telegram that this proposal does not go far enough. Udall noted it would not require a talking filibuster as the plan he put forward would.
Merkley said he would vote against the proposal.
But it would likely have enough votes among both Republicans and Democrats to gain wide approval — something that is in short supply in recent Congresses.