The Modest Filibuster Reform Package

January 5, 2011 10:41 am

Let’s be clear that the reforms Tom Udall introduced today aren’t radical at all. Sure, Republicans are in high dudgeon about them, calling the move an unprecedented power grab, etc, etc.

But going through them one by one, you’ll see just how modest they really are.

1). Eliminating Anonymous Holds: This has broad bipartisan support, and wouldn’t change much of anything — at the very least, anybody who might drop a hold out of embarrassment could just as easily enlist a shameless proxy to place the hold for them.

2). The Talking Filibuster: This doesn’t eliminate the 60 vote requirement. It just makes the minority work harder to sustain its filibuster. But rotating people on and off the floor in brief intervals isn’t an insuperable hurdle, even for a modestly determined minority.

3). No Filibustering Debate: This privileges the motion to proceed to debate. Unlike the above changes, it actually does reduce the minority’s leverage, particularly to demand votes on amendments, or changes to a bill before it hits the floor. But the idea of allowing the majority to debate whatever they want doesn’t eliminate the minority’s right block debate from ending. And, for what it’s worth, the notion of blocking debate in what is supposedly the world’s greatest deliberative body is ridiculous to everyone but, well, senators themselves.

4). Guaranteed Amendments: This actually strengthens the minority’s hand…slightly. If the majority leader “fills the tree” and files for cloture on a bill, the minority still gets one more shot at changing it…but only after cloture. Then they’re promised up to three germane amendments. Not a huge bonus, but not bad.

5). Expedited Confirmations: This saves about 28 hours for every nominee, or group of nominees, that gets filibustered. Since the 30-hour “post-cloture” clock is designed to allow for more amendments, and you can’t amend a nominee, this winnows that time down to two hours. No wasting time for wasting-time sake.

Taken together, these reforms would grease things a little bit. But even if they were all adopted, it wouldn’t end the era of the de-facto 60 vote requirement. Not even close.

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