A bipartisan group of senior senators has made recommendations that would lessen the ability of a lone senator or a small group to impede progress through delaying tactics — or the mere threat of those tactics — that sometimes prevent Senate leaders from even considering certain bills.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a chief architect of the plan, noted that “it takes a week just to overcome that threat or that filibuster just to get to debate the bill. We spend days and days and days trying to get a bill to the floor so it can be debated.”
The plan, also backed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), would allow a filibuster on final passage of legislation, meaning that a bill could fail with fewer than 60 votes.
Younger Democratic senators, mostly elected in the past six years, say that a lawmaker carrying out a filibuster should be required to actually speak at length on the chamber floor. If that senator eventually gave in, the majority would be able to proceed to final passage on a simple 51-vote majority.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a lead proponent of this idea, called “the silent secret filibuster” a “deadly” procedural tactic. “If you’re voting for more debate and you’re going to take up the time of this institution,” he said in a floor speech Wednesday, “. . . then you should have the courage of your convictions to make your case on this floor before your colleagues.”
Reid has resisted attempts to overhaul the filibuster rules, but the majority leader has also grown frustrated with GOP filibusters on even the most basic procedural steps and has signaled an openness to the changes.
Senate Democratic aides said Reid and his GOP counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), are trying to negotiate rule changes to make the Senate more efficient. If those negotiations fall through, however, Democrats are prepared to force some changes unilaterally, the aides said.
On Wednesday, Reid’s deputy, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), told Merkley and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) on the Senate floor that “I’m not sure we’re going to achieve exactly what you want,” but that their efforts are “going to end up in a change in Senate procedure.”