January 4, 2013
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), one of the co-authors of the Merkley-Udall filibuster reform proposal. (Official photo)
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), one of the co-authors of the Merkley-Udall filibuster reform proposal. (Official photo)

We now have two proposals on the table for Senate reform, plus complaints from Republicans about current procedures. There is a compromise is available. I don’t expect one, but I do think it’s possible.

Basically, both the Merkley-Udall reform package and the bipartisan response agree that there are too many opportunities to filibuster, and that nominations in particular should be a lot easier than they are. Meanwhile, the bipartisan group and Republicans in general believe that there are too few opportunities for amendments.

There’s a deal that can be made! 

What Republicans would have to give up would be multiple filibuster opportunities per bill, and serious reform of the filibuster on nominations. What Democrats would have to give up would be on amendments: They would have to accept that the fair trade-off for (getting closer to) majority rule is what comes with majority rule — including the possibility that the majority party will have to either take some very tough votes, or else accept amendments that 60 Senators, but only a minority of the majority party, prefer. By the way, I agree with Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL): it’s important that all Senators, and not only party leaders and committee leaders, have the ability to offer amendments. There are some obvious caveats: The rules should prevent the ability of the minority to filibuster by amendment (at some point the numbers have to be limited), and the number needed to approve of an amendment should not be lower than the number needed to approve a bill.

I believe the two parties, and both leaders and individual Senators, should be willing to make a deal along those lines. Indeed, I hope they should go further, and create a “Leader’s Bill,” — or as I like to call it, a “Superbill” — which would only require a simple majority to pass — but would be open to amendments that would not have to get through the 60 vote hurdle. (The requirement for non-germane amendments could be somewhere in between.)

Can they get that done? I have no idea; indeed, I’m not at all optimistic. But it would at least address the stated concerns of both sides. And it could make the Senate work a lot more effectively without turning it into a second House.