Those swept into office in the Senate bring with them a reform agenda with a single, large target, the filibuster. Here are some examples of the platforms by which these candidates came into office:
- Angus King (I) Maine – “The Senate’s recent overuse of the filibuster has stalled progress on practically every issue of importance in America. The 60-vote requirement that it creates is not in the Constitution.”
- Maria Cantwell (D) Washington – “I’m not going back to the United States Senate to salute stalemate.”
- Tammy Baldwin (D) Wisconsin – “There have been a number of proposals that say you start with a 60-vote threshold, and maybe after a month, it is lowered — until a point that after a matter has been pending in the Senate for a very long time — where everyone has had adequate opportunity for input — the threshold needed to move forward would be a simple majority.”
- Martin Heinrich (D) New Mexico – co-sponsored house measure to force reform in the Senate in 2010.
- Mazie Hirono (D) Hawaii – “In my conversations with families across Hawaii, I have heard their frustration that Congress isn’t working to create jobs and get our economy moving. Washington is indeed broken and part of the problem is the misuse and abuse of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Senator Tom Udall has proposed several ways in which the filibuster could be reformed that I believe warrant further discussion including: eliminating secret holds and requiring Senators that use the filibuster to stay on the Senate floor during a filibuster. These proposals could potentially bring transparency and efficiency to the Senate and help increase the public’s confidence in Congress”
- Tom Kaine (D) Virginia – “A filibuster has had a venerable historical purpose, and the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, I would leave that where it is. But I would make anybody who filibusters anything to have to stand on the floor of the Senate, and stand up and say, ‘This is why I’m acting to block … whatever’s going on.’ Because at the end of the day, the American public ought to be entitled to know whether the filibusterer is like Jimmy Stewart in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ or just an SOB who wants to stand in the way of progress, you know?”
- Chris Murphy (D) Connecticut – “The filibuster is in dire need of reform. Whether or not it needs to go away, we need to reform the way the filibuster is used, so it is not used in the order of everyday policy, but is only used in exceptional circumstances.”
- Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts – “We need to reform the filibuster, beginning with a requirement that anyone who wants to stop the people’s business must go out onto the Senate floor and actually filibuster, live and in person, so that the American people see precisely who is creating gridlock.”
After the 2010 midterm elections, the push for filibuster reform was there as well. Rather than do a whole-scale change, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a gentleman’s agreement with the Republican leadership in the house. In exchange for some minor rule changes, the GOP leadership agreed to limit the use of the filibuster during the new session. This agreement was then rapidly forgotten, as the GOP minority then began to abuse the filibuster to an extent unprecedented in US history. They did this on the gamble that they would take control of both houses and the presidency in the 2012 election. This is a gamble that they have now lost, and there will be consequences.
This morning in a press conference Q&A session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came out and said directly that filibuster reform is happening in the new congress:
When the new congress first meets, their first order of business is to adopt rules. Traditionally, the Vice President, in his role as President of the Senate, makes a simple statement, “This is a continuing body.” and the Senate then votes to keep the existing rules. However, on a few occasions, the President of the Senate has said something else, “This is not a continuing body.” and a new set of rules are put forth, and are voted on with a simple majority. Until these rules are voted on, there is no filibuster in the Senate.
There are several options that have been put forth:
- Make the filibuster a sliding scale, the older the bill, the fewer the number of people needed to overcome the filibuster. This option was originally introduced by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa several years ago.
- To require debate in order to filibuster. This is the traditional “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” approach, and is favored by several members of congress. To keep a filibuster going, one must debate. This can be abused according to several political theories, however.
- To change the wording of the procedural filibuster from a 3/5 members of the Senate to 3/5 of those present to vote. This would eliminate the popular tactic of hiding members who would otherwise vote for a bill, but have party pressure not to let it hit the floor, by making them hide in the cloak room. Other takes on the tactic include having the minority party declare its members on vacation, preventing a vote from reaching the 60 needed by not having enough people in the chamber to even vote.
- Eliminating the filibuster entirely. This would eliminate much of the power of the minority power, and could cause issues down the line when the current majority becomes a minority, and is not considered likely.
By the time the 113th congress begins this January, the final decision on how the rules are to be changed should be known. Regardless of which option is taken, filibuster reform has been many years in the making. The Republican abuse of the rules in this manner is about to harm not only their own party strength in the Senate, but have harmed the very institution of Government. They claim government is the problem, when they have set out to make government the problem. The rejection of the Republican party in the past election should tell them that their ideas no longer work. That they’ve only barely held the House due to gerrymandering in multiple states should be a dire warning of their impending elimination as a national force. The shift in demographics, the greying of the baby boomers, and the ascent of the millenials means they have two options, evolve or perish. The change to the filibuster caused by their obstruction is but a sign of the changes they must face in the future.