Udall, Harkin, Merkley: Rules Reform Package Gaining Support Among Senators

U.S. Senators Tom Udall (NM), Tom Harkin (IA) and Jeff Merkley (OR) announced today that 26 senators have signed on in support of their resolution to increase transparency, restore accountability and foster debate in the Senate by reforming its rules.

In addition to Udall, Harkin and Merkley, the resolution is currently co-sponsored by the following senators: Dick Durbin (IL), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Sherrod Brown (OH), Mark Begich (AK), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Michael Bennet (CO), Barbara Boxer (CA), Benjamin L. Cardin (MD), Bob Casey (PA), Christopher Coons (DE), Al Franken (MN), Kay Hagan (NC), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Joe Manchin (WV), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Jay Rockefeller (WV), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Jon Tester (MT), Mark Udall (CO), Mark Warner (VA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).

The trio introduced the resolution yesterday – the first day of the new Congress – after years of unprecedented obstruction and a historic rise in the use of the filibuster. The Senate is expected to resume consideration of the resolution on Jan. 25, upon its return from the January work period.

“The strong support we’re receiving for our rules reform proposal illustrates just how badly broken the Senate is – thanks to years of obstruction and abuse of the current Senate rules,” Udall said. “Everyone who serves in this chamber – on both sides of the political aisle – understands that the level of dysfunction we’re experiencing in the Senate is unsustainable. I look forward to discussing these reforms with my colleagues and the people of New Mexico over the next few weeks, and returning to the Capitol on January 25 to make substantial progress on this important issue.”

“When I first moved toward a reform effort in 1995, I saw an escalating arms race where each side ratcheted up the use of the filibuster effort,” Harkin said.  “Today we have reached a point where indiscriminate abuse of Senate rules has jeopardized the ability of our government to legislate and to address the challenges we face.  It’s time to move the Senate into the 21st Century by curbing the obstruction that has locked the wheels of governance in place.”   

“The Senate is broken, paralyzed by the abuse of the filibuster.  Today more and more Senators are signing onto our reform effort because it is far past time for the Senate to return to being the deliberative legislative body it once was.  I thank my colleagues who have joined this effort to and renew my invitation to all senators – Democrat and Republican – to work with us to improve the Senate,” Merkley said.  

Since 2006, there have been more filibusters than the total between 1920 and 1980. As a result of this dysfunction, in the last Congress the Senate was unable to pass a single appropriations or budget bill, left more than 400 bills sent over by the House unconsidered, and left key executive appointments and judicial nominations to languish.

The rules reform package includes five provisions that would do the following:

  • Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed: Makes motions to proceed not subject to a filibuster, but provides for two hours of debate. This proposal has had bipartisan support for decades and is often mentioned as a way to end the abuse of holds.
  • Eliminate Secret Holds: Prohibits one senator from objecting on behalf of another, unless he or she discloses the name of the senator with the objection. This is a simple solution to address a longstanding problem.
  • Guarantee Consideration of Amendments for both Majority and Minority: Protects the rights of the minority to offer amendments following cloture filing, provided the amendments are germane and have been filed in a timely manner.
  • Talking Filibuster: Ensures real debate following a failed cloture vote. Senators opposed to proceeding to final passage will be required to continue debate as long as the subject of the cloture vote or an amendment, motion, point of order, or other related matter is the pending business.
  • Expedite Nominations: Provide for two hours of post-cloture debate time for nominees. Post cloture time is meant for debating and voting on amendments – something that is not possible on nominations. Instead, the minority now requires the Senate use this time simply to prevent it from moving on to other business.