Some Senate Democrats to try to change filibuster rules in new Congress
January 4th, 2011
06:28 PM ET
12 years ago

Some Senate Democrats to try to change filibuster rules in new Congress

Washington (CNN) - Senate Democrats, anxious to reign in what they consider abuse of the filibuster by Senate Republicans, will formally propose changes Wednesday to how and when senators can use the stalling tactic. However, Senate leaders – using their own procedural smoke and mirrors - will postpone votes on the proposals until late January at the earliest as they negotiate possible compromises to the politically contentious issue, according to Senate leadership aides from both parties.

Frustrated by Republicans' escalating use of the filibuster, to stall even routine legislation and nominations, a group of Senate Democrats, led, in part, by first-term Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, is trying to build support for a wide-range of proposed Senate rule changes that would curb the use of filibusters but not ban them entirely.

When the Senate convenes Wednesday, Udall will introduce one or more his proposals. Typically, a Senate rule change requires a super majority of 67 yes votes, something that will be difficult for Democrats, with their narrow 53-seat majority, to achieve. However, on the first legislative day of a new Congress, a simple majority of senators, just 51 votes, can approve new rules.

Republicans, who for a variety of reasons oppose most of the proposed changes, don't dispute that Democrats can change the rules with just 51 votes on the first legislative day but an exasperated GOP leadership aide noted that "we've just never, ever" done it that way.

Not all Democrats support the changes either. Some senior members, who have seen control of the Senate switch back and forth, are reluctant to weaken the treasured rights provided to minority party in the Senate.

Because negotiations need time to play out, Senate leaders won't adjourn after Wednesday's session during which new members will be sworn in. Instead, the technical "legislative day" will be extended through at least January 24th when senators return from a two-week break. Doing so allows Democrats to preserve their ability to pass the reforms with just 51 votes if negotiations break down.

Republicans say they've increased the number of filibusters only because Democrats have repeatedly blocked their amendments, preventing GOP input on many key bills.

"Over the past four years, Democrats have used such gimmicks to pursue their most prized legislative goals while attempting to minimize the number of uncomfortable votes they've had to take," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wrote for a Washington Post op-ed to be published Wednesday. "My Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid, has played quarterback, setting records for the number of times he has blocked Republicans from having any input on bills, cut off our right to debate and bypassed the committee process in order to write bills behind closed doors."

Udall is considering four key proposals as part of the resolution he will offer. One would prevent filibusters to taking up a bill or on a nomination, although it will still allow filibusters to end debate on a bill. A second would eliminate so-called "secret holds" in which a senator can anonymously stall legislation or a nomination from coming to the floor. A third would require senators leading a filibuster stay on the floor and debate the issue during the entire filibuster.

A fourth proposal from Udall is aimed at appeasing GOP concerns about being locked out of the process. It would require a certain number of amendments for the minority party for any bill being debated.

Sen. Tom Harkin and other senators are expected to offer other proposals as well Wednesday.

This is not the first time the Senate has extended its first legislative day to take advantage of the lower vote threshold required to change Senate rules, according to the Senate Historian Don Ritchie.

The longest legislative day ran from January 3rd to June 12th , 1980 when then Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, D-WVA, successfully negotiated other changes to the Senate's filibuster rules.

Filed under: Senate • Senate Democrats
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. ABM

    Finally. This should have been dealt with a long time ago. The Republicants have abused this tactic for far too long.

    January 4, 2011 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  2. RIchard

    Wow, sacrificing his wife to maintain his principles. Must be true love.

    January 4, 2011 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    And, because the "news" media has such a "liberal bias," it is going to report non-stop about the attempts to fix the clearly broken, overused and ridiculously abused filibuster rules as "the Dems trying to change the rules"...all while completely ignoring the House GOPers' changes (not attempts, actual changes) to rules that make it so they can propose massive budgetary cuts and changes while creating special exceptions for those proposal so their effects on the deficit do not have to be atken into account (hint: alot of their planned budgetary nonsense will actually balloon the deficit, so they clearly don't want that getting out in circulation). Yep. Liberal media bias hard at work.

    January 4, 2011 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  4. Margie

    If they don't change the rules the minority republicans in the senate will rule the waves again. I swear if the Democrats would be some spine and kick the republicans back we might have gotten something done.

    They see how outrageous and crooked the republicans are they should just sit them down and make them stay there. Look at the stupid butts trying in the House. Isaa who is the worst crook we have had in the House for ages, suspected of arson, charges dropped , suspected of stealing cars, improper guns all dropped because he had scads of money. Looks like money talks.

    January 4, 2011 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    I'm certain the Dems would never abuse any filibuster rules. "Hi kettle, I'm pot. Looks like they painted you black."

    January 4, 2011 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  6. BeverlyNC

    They should change them to stop Republicans from abusing the filibuster rules. Republicans used the filibuster rule 336 times this year when a normal year might have 2 to 5. They did it to stop or delay or obstruct all legislation and that was unethical and wrong. The rules need to be changed to make the filibuster available for use as it was intended, not as an obstruction tool for the no-integrity,no-morality Republicans.

    January 4, 2011 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  7. Brian

    Republicans totally abused the filibuster process. The new rules would prevent such over-the-top abuse, while allowing filibusters if the minority is willing to go to the mat for it.

    January 4, 2011 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  8. Clark1b

    and I thought the dems said they liked bipartisanship ... now they are just the party of no.

    January 4, 2011 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  9. Smashed Cat

    Just like a Democrat...reminds me of Kennedy changing the rules in orchestration with the winds of his political needs.

    Q: Why can't Democrats go to the beach?
    A: The cats keep covering them up.

    January 4, 2011 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  10. Marcus

    Fact – 'Filibusters' ARE necessary as a part of the systematic of the legislative process.
    Fact – As every 'tool' that exists it can be, as it was in the past two years, in a way that was NOT the one intended by its creators.
    Fact – Changes are needed in order to stop the mere partisanship use of the 'filibuster'.
    Solution – ?
    Let's see what they (Dems AND GOPers or Dems OR GOPers) come up with.

    PS: The GOPers forget that it may be very possible that they 'take back' the Senate in a nearby future, which means that the 'tool' they are using now against the Dems can, and unfortunately giving the severe partisanship of today's politics also MIGHT, be used against them in such a situation. So let's stop the bickering and let's talk about the more 'mature' use of the 'filibuster'.

    January 4, 2011 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  11. Jim from Raytown

    About d@^^n time. The filibuster is the biggest roadblock to getting anything done in the Senate. Anybody wanna guess how much more productivity will be possible if the "Party of NO" is denied full use of the fillibuster to block meaningful legistlation? They then will have to resort to tried and true tactics like holding a bill up in committee, or endless inane amendments calculated to make a bill passage distasteful to even it's most staunch supporters, or filling a bill with so much pork that passage would offend the public decency, or tacking on a completely irrelevant poison pill amendment that would cost the original bill legistlative support or force a presidential veto. Poor Republicans. They would be losing one of their favorite playtoys.

    January 4, 2011 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  12. Peter Wolfe

    Philabusters should be given parameters on the severity with strengths and weaknesses in wht they are allowed to be able to do. Appointments are rather pathetic attempts of ridiculous time wasting if you ask me. If you don't have legitament concerns, you wouldn't need to be anonymous at all. It seems cowardly if you ask me to not agree on i.Also there should be more consensus on any minority party not some random rogue on the personal march of their own band wagon as they represent not America but thier own agenda. Wasting time on serious decisions on their ego not the nations future. I agree philabuters are totally being abused and if you can't see that you're worse than Hitler! I stole that from Red Eye off of Fox News, which ironically isn't even American unlike being american!

    January 4, 2011 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  13. Kanoodle

    That is right Dems. You have to go on the offensive. The repugs have one goal: make Obama a one term president.
    They are going to engage in malicious and dirt ytricks to make the next 2 years unproductive. They are also going to try to control the narrative coming from the media. Dems, You may have to act a bit like the repugs to defeat their goals, but it will be well worth it. Don't let the repugs control the message. That is why you lost so many seats in the midterms.

    January 4, 2011 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  14. diridi

    good for the nation...and also, we need to tighten Immigration rules....and prevail deportations, just who is found illegal, even breaking law is for one hour, just deport them...this including India guys...they are the big menace...and the it IT, or Doctors...does not matter...

    January 4, 2011 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  15. Phillyboijr

    Just more typical Democratic lunacy. Whenever they lose an advantage they cry foul and try to change the rules or create new laws.

    January 4, 2011 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  16. Marie MD

    Too little too late but I hope somebody does something about the way congress works. The rethugs filibustered almost everything that came their way wasting their time and our money.
    Thanks again to all you idiots who voted for the party of NO in 2010.

    January 4, 2011 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  17. DAVE

    the GOP is not telling the truth about their use of the filibuster when they say they used it because the democrats would not allow republican amendments to the bills. Mitch Mcconnell used it many times just to stop a bill from coming to the senate floor for even a debate or the chance to amend it as well. its boring but try watching c-span to see what is really happening i do. i don't let talking heads spin what they want you to think about filibusters. mitch mcconnell has for the last two years by himself has run the country like he has the power of the president without having to run for the office. takes guts to run for that office he runs the country like a sneeky snake without the votes of the whole country and gets away with it!

    January 4, 2011 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |