Update: Fix The Senate Now

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly today:

This morning, I joined a conference call with Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who are helping take the lead with their proposed "constitutional option."

The plan, roughly: on January 5, when votes are taken to organize the Senate, get 51 votes to reform cloture so that objecting to legislation forces continuous debate.

"I think all of you have observed that we've done no appropriations this year," said Merkley, setting up fundamental filibuster reform as a necessity, good for all sides. "It's very much damaging our advise and consent function."

Udall argued that the filibuster could be reformed because "there have been precedents by three vice presidents that you can cut off debate and move to a majority vote." He had a caveat: "We don't want to make any rules changes that would hurt our ability to speak out in a minority situation."

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After the call, the two were prepared to take their case to the rest of the Democratic caucus, where they suggested there might be a generation gap of sorts — the "old guard," with members who've been around for a long while, are likely the most reluctant to change, while newer members are more inclined to make the Senate less dysfunctional.

Of course, the more the public is engaged on this issue, the more likely senators will feel pressure about changing the way the chamber does business.

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The point is to make this reform push mainstream — which it should be. The Senate wasn't designed to work this way; the Senate never used to work this way; and the Senate quite literally doesn't work this way.

Greg Sargent writes at the Plum Line today, Is the push to reform the Senate becoming a real movement?:

It's worth noting that for the first time, the push to reform the Senate and change the filibuster is taking on the feeling of a real movement — one with real institutional support on the left and a growing power base within the Senate itself.

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In another step forward, a loose coalition of left-leaning groups called FixTheSenateNow.org is launching a new video that dramatizes in a lighthearted way that the Senate is "broken" — for everyone exept special interests and individual Senators who enjoy enormous power under the current system:

This comes after Senator Tom Harkin, a leading advocate of reform, gave a big speech predicting that Senate Dems will take action at the start of the new session. (see below).

The key thing that's happening is that groups pushing to reform the filibuster are now laying down a clear roadmap to action, and are setting their sights on clearly defined common-sense reforms that seem eminently achievable if enough political will gathers to make them happen. For instance, a range of lefty groups and powerful labor unions like AFL-CIO and SEIU recently spelled out a statement of core principles that would form the bedrock of reform.

The underlying ideas here are twofold: First, there's Senator Tom Udall's insight that each Congress has the power under the Constitution to set its own rules. And second, Senator Jeff Merkley, one of a new crop of younger reform-minded Senators, is getting traction with a proposal of simple, achievable reforms to encourage as much open debate as possible, mainly by forcing Senators to actually filibuster.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has championed a weakening of the procedural mechanism that allows the minority party to hold up legislation, predicts "fireworks" on Jan. 5, 2011 — the day on which the Senate can revamp its rules by a simple majority vote. Tom Harkin: 'Fireworks' And Shot At Filibuster Reform Coming Jan. 5:

"There could be some fireworks. There could be some fireworks on January fifth," Harkin said at a pro-reform event sponsored by several like-minded organizations. "I'm going to be there. I'm armed. I'm armed with a lot of history, and I know the rules, and I know the procedures too, so we will see what happens on the fifth."

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"[Former Sen.] Robert Byrd in 1975, the last time that last time that we changed the rules and [brought the filibuster threshold] from 67 [votes] down to 60, actually stated on the floor that a majority, 51 senators, could change the rules. And that's what we intend to do and that is what we are working on right now. We are coming on the fifth to basically send a motion to the vice president … that will change the rules and there is a procedure to provide 51 votes to do that. Robert Byrd said that in 1975 and that's what we are going to try to do."

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Harkin's explicit planning may be the most detailed public statement on reform strategy to date. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) has long been advocating changing the Senate rules on the first day of the next session, so as to skirt a supermajority threshold, but his proposal was considered just one of several being pushed by pro-reform advocates.

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Harkin hinted that the GOP is looking to cut a deal with Democrats in an effort to ensure that anything they pushed was not too far-reaching. "Right now there are talks going on with Republicans and Democrats for some changes so we don't get to that point," he said.

But, at least before an audience of reform advocates, Harkin seemed uninterested in incremental changes. And while there may not even be 51 votes to change the rules, let alone any Republicans willing to compromise, Harkin insisted he wouldn't settle for reforms that still allowed the minority party to bring the legislative process to a halt.

"I want my legacy to be that I did everything possible to try to end minority rule in the Senate. And I believe this is the way to do it," he said. "What I'm fearful of is that, knowing how this place works, that we might come down to some minor little fixes that still will not prevent the minority from stopping everything. The minority can still stop it, but we'll make it a little bit more efficient, maybe, but the minority — to me, that's the essential question. Are you still going to give the minority the power to absolutely block and stop everything? It's a fundamental question."

This may be more than you ever wanted to know about the various options open to 51 senators who want to change the body's rules, but here it is.

Just imagine how different the history of the past two years would have been had Senate Democrats shown the foresight to change the Senate rules in January 2009 to counter the publicly declared bad faith "just say no" obstructionist strategy of the Republicans — the first time in the history of our Republic that a minority party systematically sought to undermine the ability of the government to govern — during an economic panic and two wars no less. Some would dare call this sedition, or worse. It just blows my mind that voters rewarded this unprecedented bad faith conduct in the most recent election.

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