I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
U.S. Senate to look at filibuster reform
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced yesterday that the Senate would look into reforming the filibuster. The Senate Rules Committee will hold hearings on the potential Senate rule changes, including testimony by Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M.
Earlier this year, Udall proposed a “constitutional option” for changing Senate rules on the filibuster.
“In the time since I introduced my resolution calling for the Constitutional Option, we have seen further abuses of Senate rules that have bogged down our ability to get work done. I have also seen a growing number of my colleagues come forward to express their frustration with the status quo,” Udall said in an e-mail to The Independent.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa., has introduced legislation to end the filibuster. Harkin originally attempted to end the filibuster in the Senate in 1994 — after Republicans had taken control from the Democrats.
The filibuster in the U.S. Senate today is not as it was in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; the Senate has been reformed to stop such displays through cloture. Through cloture, the Senate can limit debate on the pending motion to thirty hours with votes from three-fifths of the Senate — or 60 votes. If the minority forces the majority to invoke cloture before voting on a bill, it essentially requires 60 votes to pass legislation (except for reconciliation, but that’s a whole other ball of Senate rules).
The U.S. Senate supplies a count of cloture motions dating back to 1919; however, the relevant time period is since 1970 when Senate rules were amended to lower the votes needed for invoking cloture from 2/3 of the Senate (67 votes) to 3/5 of the Senate (60 votes). The most votes to invoke cloture occurred in the 110th Congress, which ended in 2008. So far in the current Congress, the 111th Congress, there have been 48 cloture votes in the Senate.
It is because of the large amount of cloture votes, which Democrats call obstruction, that Senate Democrats are considering changing Senate rules.
“I’m looking forward to our upcoming hearings on the filibuster in the Senate Rules Committee when we will examine the proposals out there to fix the rules,” Udall told The Independent. “I am also very glad to hear Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirm that he too believes that the best way for us to amend our rules is at the beginning of the 112th Congress. The Constitutional Option — the foundation for reform — would provide for us to do just that.”
“It is clearly time to fix the rules and get the Senate back on track and working for the American people again,” Udall concluded.
Huffington Post political reporter Sam Stein explains how the process would play out at the start of the 112th Congress:
To change Senate rules in the middle of the session requires 67 votes, which Democrats clearly don’t have. But changing the rules at the beginning of the 112th Congress will require the chair to declare the Senate is in a new session and can legally draft new rules. That ruling would be made by Vice President Joe Biden, who has spoken out against the current abuse of the filibuster. The ruling can be appealed, but that appeal can be defeated with a simple majority vote.
New Mexico’s other Senator, Jeff Bingaman, voted against tabling an amendment in 1995 that would have changed the rules for a filibuster. The motion to table, or kill, the amendment passed on a 76-19 vote with five not voting.
The Senate cleared the 60-vote threshold on a health care reform bill in December, resulting in a Christmas Eve vote on the bill itself. However, the Senate has not been able to get the necessary 60 votes on other significant pieces of President Barack Obama’s agenda, including a cap and trade bill.