Senate filibuster deal disappoints reformers

January 24, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reached a deal. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Senate leaders have reached a deal on procedural reform that alters some of the chamber’s more cumbersome procedures but leaves the 60-vote threshold for ending a filibuster intact — disappointing reformers who had hoped for more.

"It's a baby step. Really, it's a baby baby step," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told reporters. Obama "might as well take a four-year vacation," he added, because nothing on his agenda will pass. "He can go out and give wonderful speeches, things like that," but that's about it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) largely accepted the recommendations from a bipartisan team of senior senators that the chamber needs to streamline its operations, not overhaul rules that give the minority more rights than in any legislative body in the world.

Liberal activists, as well as some junior Democrats, expressed disappointment with the proposal because it did not fundamentally alter the filibuster practice. That wing of the party, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), pushed to include a “talking filibuster” provision that would have forced the minority to hold the floor for marathon speaking sessions to prevent a vote on a simple 51-vote margin. The reformers also suggested shifting the burden to the minority by requiring 41 votes to sustain a filibuster rather than 60 votes to break one.

“The agreement avoids measures that would actually raise the costs of Senate obstruction. Neither the talking filibuster provision nor the shifting the burden provision is expected to be included in the final package,” Fix the Senate Now, a coalition of liberal advocacy groups that has been running ads calling for the end of filibuster practices, said in a statement Thursday morning.

"The bipartisan deal Senator Reid struck is a compromised bait-and-switch deal which he and Senator McConnell call filibuster reform, but we know will do next to nothing to actually fix the filibuster," concurred Sarah Lane of CREDO, a liberal activist network.

A pro-reform Senate aide told Wonkblog that he was similarly baffled. “Right now, you have to negotiate with McConnell to get on a bill,” he said. "Tomorrow, if this passes, you still need to negotiate with McConnell to get on a bill. It changes nothing on how we move forward.”

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