Talking Filibuster Reform Fails in Senate

talking filibuster reform

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) reached an agreement Thursday night regarding new Senate rules. The filibuster was the central concern surrounding the new rules debate with the most advocated provision, talking filibuster reform, left out of the bipartisan agreements.

Senate Resolution 15 will make temporary changes that expire in 2014, which passed 78 to 16, and S. Res 16 enacts permanent changes — passing 86 to 9. Some of the temporary changes from S. Res 15 include:

  • A four-hour limit following a cloture vote on the motion to proceed (down from 30 hours)
  • Republicans will be allowed two unrelated amendments on bills (agreed to as a standing order, not a rules change)
  • A two-hour limit following a cloture vote on the nomination of district court appointees and an eight-hour limit for sub-cabinet positions

Some permanent changes in S. Res 16 include:

  • Reduced the number of opportunities to filibuster before a bill enters a conference committee
  • 16 Senators, 7 of each party and their leaders, can sign a petition to close debate before time expired, normally 30 hours

These fairly mundane procedural changes do little to address the ease by which a Senator can launch a filibuster, but help to reduce the delaying impact of one Senator. Senators are still able to filibuster with a phone call, though an unofficial agreement was made between McConnell and Reid to pressure their colleagues to remain present when objecting to legislation.

The talking filibuster proposal, advocated by Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) as part of a more aggressive campaign to reform the Senate filibuster, would require a senator to hold the floor and talk in order to delay a vote or procedural motion. Regarding the compromise Senator Merkley said in a statement:

“These steps are modest, and don’t address the core problem of the secret, silent filibuster, but they do include some important elements, providing flexibility on the motion to proceed and speeding up the confirmation process on nominations.”

Yet, many Senate Republicans seem pleased with the compromise, although a majority of the ‘nay’ votes were from party members; most notably Sens. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

McConnell released a statement highlighting how the rules change could have easily been made along strictly party lines with only 51 Democrats voting in favor of stronger reform, known as the ‘nuclear’ option.

“No party has ever broken the rules of the Senate to change those rules. I’m glad such an irreparably damaging precedent will not be set today… I’m glad cooler heads have prevailed here once again, and those who were clamoring for the nuclear option, most of whom have never served a day of their lives in the minority, didn’t prevail.”

The next opportunity for senators to revisit the filibuster will be in 2014, following the midterm elections. Though the unprecedented increase in filibusters has waned since the 112th Congress took office, the 113th could easily return to a tradition of legislative paralysis and partisan gridlock.