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Democrats Buy Time on Filibuster Changes

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“I’ve talked to a lot of Senators on both sides of the aisle ... I think most of us want the same thing: We want to restore the Senate to a place where bills comes to the floor with some sort of bipartisan cooperation and then almost any Senator gets almost any amendment. That’s where we’d like to get,” he said.

Even as Alexander said that most Republicans think the Senate should focus on changing their behavior and leave the rules alone, he indicated a bipartisan agreement could be reached on a proposal to eliminate secret holds and another proposal that would make it easier for presidents to have their executive nominations confirmed. 

But Alexander was confident the filibuster would remain largely intact once the dust cleared.

“I think cooler heads are likely to take a look at this and say the Senate is too valuable an institution to tamper with it in this way,” he said. “That’s what happened every other time it’s come up.”

He also warned, “I’d rather not speculate about the consequences, but they would be very dramatic. That’s why the Democrats called a similar effort by Republicans in 2005 the ‘nuclear option.’”

Currently, 60 votes are needed to beat back an attempted filibuster, which is achieved by filing a motion to invoke cloture, or limit debate. A failure to get 60 votes has come to represent a sustained filibuster, rather than the image of a lone Senator refusing to yield the floor until the bill is dropped.

Despite months of talking behind the scenes about what they say is the GOP’s misuse of the filibuster, junior Democrats from the 2006 and 2008 classes have yet to come up with a set of rules changes that has the votes to pass. Senate Democratic leaders have been loath to step in as arbiters, even as they have vowed to push any consensus proposal that crops up from the lower ranks.

Still, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and others plan to take to the Senate floor today to introduce resolutions that would restrict the minority’s right to filibuster and place secret holds on bills.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Tuesday that the effort is intended to “launch debate” and that “people will put various ideas out” for discussion over the next few weeks, with the intent of voting on a proposal or two when the chamber reconvenes Jan. 24.

Udall’s proposal, which had not been translated into legislative language as of press time, would include four basic tenets, according to his spokeswoman: eliminating filibusters on motions to proceed, or to bring bills up for debate; ensuring that the minority always has the right to offer at least three amendments to any bill; requiring objectors to be present on the floor to register their objections; and eliminating secret holds, which allow Senators to anonymously hold up nominations and bills. The proposal may also shorten debate time once cloture has been invoked on a nomination.

Merkley has also suggested guaranteeing amendments and forcing people to hold the floor while objecting to a bill or nomination.

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