As Time Runs Short, Filibuster Reformers Escalate Campaign

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One week before filibuster reform’s do-or-die moment, its two chief proponents are escalating their campaign, enlisting Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and the liberal Daily Kos community to help lead the charge.

The Senate returns early next week with a narrow window to either approve or scrap the resolution by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) to require an obstructing minority to occupy the floor and speak for the duration of their filibuster.

Three senators and Daily Kos are issuing a new petition Monday that reads: “Just a few days left! Over the next few days, the fate of filibuster reform hangs in the balance. Let’s tell the leaders of the U.S. Senate that real reform includes a full talking filibuster.”

Meanwhile, the Fix The Senate Now coalition of outside anti-filibuster groups is sounding the alarm with its own drive for reform. The coalition, which is urging supporters to write to their senators in favor of reform, argues that Republican threats to hinder the nominations of Chuck Hagel for the Pentagon and Jack Lew for Treasury enhance the need to curtail the filibuster.The reason for the urgency is that leaders believe Senate rules can only be changed with a bare majority vote on the first legislative day of a new Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) effectively extended the first day until the Senate reconvenes next Tuesday (by “recessing” rather than “adjourning” earlier this month on the actual first day). His office says the Senate won’t technically be in session next Monday for the swearing-in ceremonies.

The “talking filibuster” proposal faces opposition from Republicans and longtime Democrats, chiefly Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). He and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are pushing a competing scaled-back plan that would require the usual two-thirds majority to change the rules outside what Republicans call the “nuclear option.” Reid has vowed to weaken the filibuster but hasn’t clarified which proposal he’s leaning toward, having praised both.

The Levin-McCain plan would make it easier for the majority to move to debate on legislation while guaranteeing the minority two amendments regardless of relevancy. It would also expedite some judicial nominations. Levin has warned his colleagues not to ram through a significant change to the rules without the consent of a two-thirds majority.

In recent weeks, Reid has been negotiating privately with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on a resolution that could avoid the constitutional option, while keeping options open. That’s worrying the pro-reform coalition, which doubts McConnell would consent to anything that meaningfully curtails the Senate minority’s power.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who was involved in the McCain-Levin negotiations, declined to take a stance on which proposal he prefers. But he said early this month that he wants as far-reaching filibuster reform as can be achieved.

Merkley and Udall claim the Levin-McCain plan would a step backward for the cause, arguing that the minority could use amendments to poison legislation.

“Other proposals out there don’t go far enough,” the petition reads, “and won’t change the culture of obstruction that paralyzes the Senate.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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