Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced a bipartisan deal for filibuster reform today – and it’s a joke on everyone hoping for productivity on Capitol Hill.
The plan does nothing to end our Senate’s chronic “culture of obstructionism.” It won’t force lawmakers to stand up and defend their position when blocking the legislative process, as Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) had proposed in their rival filibuster reform bill. It won’t shift the burden onto the offending party, by requiring 41 votes to retain a filibuster – as opposed to the current standard, where you need 61 votes to end one – as Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) had proposed.
Instead, we got a couple of tweaks that will help lawmakers continue to do nothing, just a little more efficiently. The deal lets senators avoid filibusters on motions to proceed, in exchange for guaranteed amendments by the minority party. This means Republicans now have the power to tack all kinds of harmful nonsense onto bills they don’t like – and they only need 51 votes to pass each amendment.
The compromise, which was struck by Reid and House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), also streamlines the process for some court nominations and makes it easier to go to conference with the House. That’s it.
With reforms this weak, don’t expect the Senate’s state of paralysis to end anytime soon. A coalition of labor groups and progressive organizations called “Fix The Senate” released a statement saying as much hours before the deal:
If the agreement proceeds as expected, Senator Reid and the entire chamber will have missed an opportunity to restore accountability and deliberation to the Senate, while not raising the costs of obstruction.
Reid could have used what’s called the Constitutional option to enact actual reform, such as the Udall-Merkley or Franken plan. This would have meant taking advantage of a window on the first legislative day – which Reid pushed forward for weeks – where it takes just 51 votes to change Senate rules, rather than the usual 67.
But Reid chose to turn his back on a promise to “make the filibuster meaningful.” What could be a mechanism for enforced transparency in the law-making process now remains an undemocratic barrier to progress. Our gridlocked Senate will continue slugging along in shame.