READ: John McCain’s filibuster reform

December 28, 2012

Sen.s John McCain and Carl Levin think the Senate rules are working pretty well as is. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

As the Huffington Post reported earlier today, Sens. John McCain and Carl Levin — backed up by a handful of senior senators from both parties — have been prepping a filibuster proposal meant to undercut more significant reform of the Senate rules. You can download the whole proposal here, but here are the highlights:

— Redundant filibusters, like the filibuster on the motion to proceed, and the multiple filibusters on conference reports, would be eliminated.

— If the minority leader and majority leader agree, the time it takes to vote to break a filibuster could be sped up from two days to two hours.

— More presidential nominees would qualify for fast-track consideration, unless a senator objected.

— The minority party would be guaranteed at least two amendments.

This is filibuster reform for people who don't want to reform the filibuster. 

In other words, it wouldn't do much of anything. Unlike Sen. Tom Harkin's reform proposal, it wouldn't change the number of votes needed to break a filibuster. Unlike Sen. Jeff Merkley's reform proposal, it wouldn't require the minority to actually hold the floor and talk. And perhaps most importantly, it wouldn't use "the constitutional option," thus protecting the precedent that changing Senate rules requires a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority.

If you think the Senate is pretty much working well as is, and the biggest threat are the folks who want to change the rules, then this is the proposal for you. It lets people say they're doing something to curb the abuse of the filibuster without actually doing anything at all. But if you think the Senate is broken, there's nothing in here that would even plausibly fix any of its problems.

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Brad Plumer · December 28, 2012