In a dramatic shift in thinking within the Senate Democratic Conference, 56 current and incoming Democratic Senators have written a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid in favor of changing the chamber’s filibuster rules.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined the Democrats in arguing that “the current abuse of the rules by the minority threatens the ability of the Senate to do the necessary work of the nation, and we urge you to take steps to bring these abuses of our rules to an end.”
While the Dec. 18 letter, first reported by National Journal, does not include any specific proposals, the rare united demonstration of support could help convince Reid. Newer members have demanded that he use his authority at the start of the 112th Congress to alter the minority’s ability to prevent debates, nominations and bills from coming to the floor, but more senior members have resisted. They argue that Democrats will want access to the filibuster if they find themselves again in the minority.
Republicans’ success in using the rules to block key portions of the Democratic agenda, particularly during the protracted lame-duck session, appears to have changed minds.
The letter argues that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made a routine practice of traditional filibusters and other procedural stalling tactics that had been relatively rare.
“The process of threatening a filibuster and requiring a cloture vote on just about every matter is now routine. The cloture process, including the post-cloture 30 hours, can and often does consume about a week of the Senate’s time,” the lawmakers wrote.
They added, “There are not enough weeks in the year to exhaust the unprecedented obstructionism by the current Senate minority.”
Over the last year, Democrats and outside liberal organizations have agitated for a change to the rules, and Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has held a series of hearings on how to cut down on filibusters by the GOP.
While Reid has bitterly complained about filibusters, he has stopped short of endorsing removing the rules altogether. It remains unclear whether the party will ultimately pull the trigger when he gavels in the 112th session.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.