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Posted at 11:38 AM ET, 12/16/2010

Is the push to reform the Senate becoming a real movement?

By Greg Sargent

It's worth noting that for the first time, the push to reform the Senate and change the filibuster is taking on the feeling of a real movement -- one with real institutional support on the left and a growing power base within the Senate itself.

In recent years, calls to reform the filibuster were mostly confined to crazy bloggers and a handful of cranky, wild-haired Senators on the margins. But that is clearly changing. A range of proposals that seem strikingly well thought through -- from a requirement that Senators actually filibuster on the floor to a change in the number of votes needed to break the filibuster -- are now proliferating,

And a number of major voices on the left are now calling on the Senate Dem leadership to take direct action at the start of next year, which is only weeks away.

In another step forward, a loose coalition of left-leaning groups called FixTheSenateNow.org is launching a new video that dramatizes in a lighthearted way that the Senate is "broken" -- for everyone exept special interests and individual Senators who enjoy enormous power under the current system:

This comes after Senator Tom Harkin, a leading advocate of reform, gave a big speech predicting that Senate Dems will take action at the start of the new session.

The key thing that's happening is that groups pushing to reform the filibuster are now laying down a clear roadmap to action, and are setting their sights on clearly defined common-sense reforms that seem eminently achievable if enough political will gathers to make them happen. For instance, a range of lefty groups and powerful labor unions like AFL-CIO and SEIU recently spelled out a statement of core principles that would form the bedrock of reform.

The underlying ideas here are twofold: First, there's Senator Tom Udall's insight that each Congress has the power under the Constitution to set its own rules. And second, Senator Jeff Merkley, one of a new crop of younger reform-minded Senators, is getting traction with a proposal of simple, achievable reforms to encourage as much open debate as possible, mainly by forcing Senators to actually filibuster.

Of course, as anyone even casually familiar with the inner workings of the Senate will tell you, the best-intentioned ideas can -- and often do -- disappear without ever getting acted on, for reasons that no one can explain. But it's certainly noteworthy that a real movement seems to be taking shape to prevent that from happening this time around.

By Greg Sargent  | December 16, 2010; 11:38 AM ET
Categories:  Senate Dems, Senate Republicans  
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Comments

SINCE the democrats took powere two years ago, they have done nothing but offend the American People.


From the "in your face" attitude concerning the health care bill - to false charges of racism on Capitol Hill, the democrats' conduct has been OFFENSIVE


This lame-duck session is just icing on the cake. The democrats lost the election. Time to go home now - time to start to listen to the American People.


Everyone is sick of the democrats now.


The American People do not want this lame duck session. It is being run by special interests FOR special interests. The American People see right through this. It is shameful.


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 16, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

When the Republicans take over the Senate in 2013, they will appreciate that the Democrats will have made it much easier for them to repeal the laws that Democrats had to have sixty votes to get passed. Yes they will.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 16, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I have a serious question - if they do this, what are the odds that the senate can actually take up some of the 400 odd bills that Nancy got passed that didn't move in the senate?

I think I'd enjoy listening to the howls from the right.

Posted by: lcrider1 | December 16, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Filibuster


If the democrats push through this proposal, they will do nothing but empower the Speaker of the House - no matter what party he or she is from.


This proposal will do nothing but reduce the power of every Senator.


When was the last time you saw something like that happen in Washington? It doesn't happen, that's why.


Clearly, the Senate is not going to transfer power to the House in this way.


The democrats, from their point of view, are short-sighted. This proposal does nothing for them for the next two years because the Republicans have the House. After that, the democrats are likely to be in the minority in the Senate - so this proposal is like the democrats cutting their own throats.


It is silly.


It is short-sighted. The democrats would be wise to think past 2012 - when they are likely to be in the minority for a generation or more. They should be happy the filibuster is in place.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 16, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

"...for reasons that no one can explain..."

I can. Seriously, would you like me to explain it to you? Oh look, you already did,

"...the Senate is "broken" -- for everyone ex[c]ept special interests and individual Senators who enjoy enormous power under the current system..."

Any questions?

Posted by: shrink2 | December 16, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Greg, Are you cheering the fact that the Democrats are going to neuter themselves by removing the fillabuster? We know that if the Republicans lose the Senate in two years they will simply change the law back - giving themselves the fillabuster control again.

Why are the Democrats so very, very stupid? Could it be that this is a one-party system and money is at the heart of the party. The illusion of a Democratic party is very important to keeping the one party system in place.

In action, there is little difference between the Dems and Repubs. Hasn't Obama kept 98% of the Bush agenda in place?

Posted by: rjmmcelroy | December 16, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Shrink

The Senate is not broken

This is how the Senate always used to be


In fact, it used to be 67 votes to proceed - and before that, it was 96 votes - (before Alaska and Hawaii they needed everyone to vote yes to proceed)


The filibuster is an important safeguard for the minority party in this country.

It is important to point out - that over the past 70 years, it has been no one but the democrats who have abused the filibuster - starting with Civil Rights legislation


NOW the Republicans are doing what the democrats have done, and all of a sudden it is not legitimate.


Life doesn't work that way. The democrats should show some maturity.


Grow up


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 16, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Hilarious,

"...Senate Dems will take action at the start of the new session..."

Thanks for the daily chuckle. I'll bet they will still be talking about being serious about their intention to pass DADT.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 16, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

"Could it be that this is a one-party system and money is at the heart of the party?"

Doh! Why didn't I think of that?

Posted by: shrink2 | December 16, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

"Greg, Are you cheering the fact that the Democrats are going to neuter themselves by removing the fillabuster? We know that if the Republicans lose the Senate in two years they will simply change the law back - giving themselves the fillabuster control again."

You can only change the rules of the Senate at the start of a session. If the GOP is running the Senate and loses control, they can't change the rules back before the new Senate is seated.

Posted by: steveh46 | December 16, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for major Senate reform such as this so long as there is bipartisan support. Greg keeps asserting that these reforms are common sense and well-thought through. If so, then why does he point to only one "side" supporting these efforts? I'm very skeptical that these changes are well thought-out (witness the many issues with HCR) and I am very suspicious of unintended consequences.

Posted by: sbj3 | December 16, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Why is it that the liberals continue to sound like they are living on some other planet ???


The democrats lost the election.


Any smart democrat will at least brace themselves for the potential that the Republicans will take control of the Senate in 2012.


Clearly, in that situation, the democrats would be better off WITH the filibuster.


AND at the moment, the Republicans are taking control of the House - so the Republicans have an important check right now for the next two years.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 16, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

"I have a serious question - if they do this, what are the odds that the senate can actually take up some of the 400 odd bills that Nancy got passed that didn't move in the senate?"

None. Any bills not acted upon in this congress die on January 4, and have to be reintroduced and voted upon in the next congress.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | December 16, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

If the filibuster is the problem, then how do we explain how easily the Senate passed the brand new estate tax cuts for the super rich?

When it comes to taking care of those who do not need taking care of, and of course voting for estate tax changes that benefit their own families, the vast majority of the senate, from both sides of the aisle, morphed easily into The Tabernacle Snatch And Grab Choir.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 16, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Here's are a couple reforms I'd like to see:

No anonymous holds on legislation or nominees. Holds have to be transparent and explained, and made available to the public.

No holds on legislation or nominees that have been voted out of committee that aren't related specifically to that bill or nominee. In other words, Mary Landrieu placing a hold on the OMB candidate because she wants some favor on gulf oil drilling would be prohibited.


Posted by: suekzoo1 | December 16, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Any reform begins with letting the states nominate their own Senator. Allowing people to directly vote for their own representatives is blatantly un-American.

Posted by: willows1 | December 16, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Bernie, Zakaria's column was found at

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/12/AR2010121202760.html


The column about the charges against Assange was found at

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/10/AR2010121002571.html

I do not know which column you wanted to see linked.

As to the assertions in the Assange article about the nature of American states' rape laws, I somewhat disagreed and published the link to the APRI distillation of American states' rape laws. I pointed out that DE and DC had very different standards for using "force" and "consent" as metrics.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | December 16, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

"If the filibuster is the problem, then how do we explain how easily the Senate passed the brand new estate tax cuts for the super rich? When it comes to taking care of those who do not need taking care of, and of course voting for estate tax changes that benefit their own families, the vast majority of the senate, from both sides of the aisle, morphed easily into The Tabernacle Snatch And Grab Choir."

I don't disagree with the premise behind this comment. It just strikes me as odd that some continue to put faith in politicians (of any party) at all. It's like people enjoyed being disappointed. Filibuster or not, the Senate is still going to be full people who work to further their own interests above all else.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | December 16, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Bernie, Zakaria's column was found at

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/12/AR2010121202760.html


The column about the charges against Assange was found at

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/10/AR2010121002571.html

I do not know which column you wanted to see linked.

As to the assertions in the Assange article about the nature of American states' rape laws, I somewhat disagreed and published the link to the APRI distillation of American states' rape laws. I pointed out that DE and DC had very different standards for using "force" and "consent" as metrics.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | December 16, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

OT, good read on growing economy:

~Fewer jobless claims cap strong week for economy~

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_ECONOMY?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2010-12-16-11-13-58

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 16, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

OT but it's fast approaching time for Reid to put up or shut up regards DADT repeal. He needs to push START out...

"Lieberman: Repeal 'Don't ask' before ratifying arms treaty: "I hope it could come up Sunday or Monday of next week. And I really believe that, after the tax cuts have been passed, which they have been in the Senate, the spending bills for the government are approved, this is the next most important and urgent thing to do," Lieberman told CNN."

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/133955-lieberman-complete-dont-ask-before-arms-treaty

Posted by: sbj3 | December 16, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Isn't "free" trade great?

"Americans bigger appetite for imported goods, including clothes and household appliances, helped lift the broadest measure of the U.S. trade deficit in the July-September quarter to $127.2 billion. It was the fifth straight quarter the deficit had increased." AP

Cold War II is more important than most people know. Meanwhile, the urge to buy stuff they can't afford is what terrorizes America.

Does the urge to buy terrorize you? Well, does it?

Paradoxically, Obama knows he needs American consumers to shop 'till they drop at least as much as Bush did, he just can't say so. Only retail sales can save him now.

There was an opportunity there at the beginning of his administration, he could have seen this coming and told Americans that they can no longer borrow and spend their way to prosperity. Too late now.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 16, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Liam -- "If the filibuster is the problem, then how do we explain how easily the Senate passed the brand new estate tax cuts for the super rich?"

Seems pretty simple to me. Without the filibuster, the GOP's "we won't let you pass anything else unless you pass our tax cuts" would have been an empty threat.

Posted by: jimeh | December 16, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Still does not explain why all those Democrats voted for to cut estate taxes for the super rich. Far more than were needed for the bill to pass.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 16, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

did anyone else follow the link to Ezra "the king of the journ-o-listista" Klein's article?

I certainly did. Isn't it just amazing that among the the special interest groups urging senate reforms are no other than the AFL-CIO and SEIU? I'm hardly surprised. The unions have to realize that they are not going to get much of a return on the 90+ million investment in the mid term election campaigns.

And the unions will stop at nothing to insure a steady grow of the federal work force and a steady flow of taxpayer money to the union. I've described the closed loop that is turning us into Greece several times here. Now let me share with the liberals here an example of union desperation:

"Christian Schneider, a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, writes of today’s strange happenings in the Badger state:

The state public employee unions are trying to ram through their contracts before the new Governor and Legislature take over in January. This is an unprecedented move – generally, they’re taken up months from now – but they know if they can get them through before the whole state government flips to red, they can get about $154 million in benefits Gov.-Elect Walker had promised to cut.

The vote is expected to be close, and the unions need every vote. So they go pick up a disgraced legislator named Jeff Wood, who is SITTING IN PRISON and drive him down to the Capitol. Wood is in jail on three separate OWI arrests within the span of a year, and lost his seat in the last election. So the fiscal fate of the state rests in the hands of a lame duck legislator who gets a day off from jail to vote the unions better benefits."

(h/t The corner at NRO)

so there you have it. The union KNOWS that the gravy train is about to leave the station, so taking a page from the self-interested lame ducks in congress, they are trying to jam through a contract now rather than face the newly elected Republicans and their committment to fiscal sanity.

That is just rank desperation and it is tantamount to theft.

I am very interested in reading the justification for these moves from the stalwart liberals here. I have no doubt that a serious examination of the liberal dogma will result in a rationale for all this. Just as the communist academics could convince themselves that the soviets were wave of the future.


Posted by: skipsailing28 | December 16, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

"Still does not explain why all those Democrats voted for to cut estate taxes for the super rich. Far more than were needed for the bill to pass."

Simple -- because they wanted to. Because at their cores, there's a dime's worth of difference between the two parties.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | December 16, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Will the reforms address Harry Reid's unprecedented abuse of the rules to block opposition amendments and debate?

There was a great piece at the Corner the other day about this. Funny how that never comes up in all the huffing about "obstruction."

Posted by: quarterback1 | December 16, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

"...there's a dime's worth of difference between the two parties."

A dime they borrowed and spent, how much is that in Yuan?

Posted by: shrink2 | December 16, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

One Chinese Yuan is currently trading for about 15 cents.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | December 16, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Thank you.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 16, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

"In recent years, calls to reform the filibuster were mostly confined to crazy bloggers and a handful of cranky, wild-haired Senators on the margins. But that is clearly changing."

Yes, now it includes even more crazy and cranky Democrats, who have wanted to change anything that obstructs the far left agenda. Unable and unwilling to govern/participate in any mode except one-party rule, they've gotten even angrier as the electorate turned against them. (That pesky electorate that just doesn't understand how great all the liberal ideas are, you know?)

Next we'll hear about the need for a constitutional convention to get rid of the senate-kind of like the continued weeping and wailing about the BCA bowl system that graces the WashPost sports pages.

Posted by: Towson_Tiger | December 16, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Liam-still said:
"When the Republicans take over the Senate in 2013, they will appreciate that the Democrats will have made it much easier for them to repeal the laws that Democrats had to have sixty votes to get passed. Yes they will."

You only have to look back over the last 20years to see where filibuster was threatened and used to understand that the Democrats may have more here to loose than the Republicans. Liam Speaks True.

For the Record, I don't expect Congress to take care of ObamaCare. I fully expect that it will take a Constitutional Convention, which Congress has not one bit of input into, to set things completely right in that matter. If that does not happen, the Courts are making loud noises right now that ObamaCare does indeed stretch the Commerce Clause too far. If you read the Material and Support for repeal that these Judges Agree with, you will understand why hope is rising for the repeal of ObamaCare. It has NOTHING to do with Reid, Pelosi, Obama, or even the Incoming Republican Horde in the House.

Let me paint it out for you: Vinson, who has yet to rule, called the individual mandate “a great leap” on the notion of economic activity that falls within the Commerce Clause’s parameters, and suggested that if Constitutional, then the Federal Government would be in the position where: “If they decide that everyone needs to eat broccoli,” you would have no choice. The “Food Police” would make you buy it and gag it down, probably with a Government Subsidy, and “For your own Good, since everyone *knows* that we need to eat more Vegetables to Remain Healthy” and this may *even* fall under the purview of those forcing us to buy ObamaCare!

He has said *this* before any ruling, which I expect will be grounds to elevate it to the Appelate Courts. This almost feels like a deliberate move to get it "up the chain" faster, and Liberals will play right into this one is my guess, thinking that fast action on their part will have anything to with this Bastardized Excuse for a Health Care Reform surviving.

It stands or falls on its own merits, and those merits are pathetic. My guess it falls.

;'{P~~~

Posted by: Clearbrook | December 20, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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