It looks like the US Senate’s 552-hour first “day” will end soon, without any significant changes to the body’s rules. We’ve been holding out hope that Senate Majority Leader Reid’s move to extend the first day of the Senate from January 5 until today would result in real changes in the filibuster (the so-called “constitutional option” would allow for a simple majority vote to change the Senate’s rules on the first day of Congress). But after weeks of debate, the chance of reform has fizzled out.
Alan has written extensively about how the filibuster is undemocratic and unconstitutional (and the result of sheer accident.). Ultimately, it should be abolished. We’re proud of Cascadia’s own Senator Merkley of Oregon who took the filibuster head-on, making an effort to significantly reform it. But in the end, Senate leadership opted to skip the heavy lifting and allow the filibuster’s minority rule obstruction to continue unchecked.
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There’ll be a vote this afternoon, which will likely result in a few positive, albeit minor, changes to Senate rules: an end to secret holds on nominees, cutting out a few technicalities that promote stalling tactics, and reducing the number of nominees that must be confirmed by the Senate before they are appointed. But what we’ll lack is meaningful change. (For a good rundown on the situation, see Timothy Noah’s article in Slate.)
The real problems of the Senate—those that stall government to the point of inaction—remain unaddressed, and they’re not likely to change soon. Reid has stated that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to require a simple majority vote on procedural rules, so any further changes to the Senate’s operations will likely require 67 votes from a Senate that can’t agree on what to order for lunch.
I’ll add applause for NW Senators Begich (Alaska) and Tester (Montana), who joined the movement for real change in Senate rules. What’s shameful is that Washington Senators Cantwell and Murray and Oregon Senator Wyden were all absent. None cosponsored Sen. Merkley’s reform measure.
An addendum: Merkley’s proposal just failed 44-51. Montana’s Sen. Baucus was among the “no” votes.