Liberal activists and some junior Democrats said they were disappointed that the proposal did not fundamentally alter the filibuster practice. That wing of the party, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Tom Udall (N.M.), pushed to include a “talking filibuster” provision that would have forced the minority to hold the floor for old-fashioned marathon speaking sessions or else the majority would be able to pass legislation on a simple 51-vote margin.
“The agreement avoids measures that would actually raise the costs of Senate obstruction,” the group Fix the Senate Now said in a statement Thursday. The coalition of liberal advocacy groups has been running ads calling for the end of filibuster practices.
Merkley said in an interview Thursday that he is disappointed with the package but noted the “growing momentum” toward Senate reforms. His proposal two years ago, which was blocked almost in its entirety, included some of the things that were adopted Thursday by wide bipartisan votes. He vowed to continue pushing filibuster reforms if the Senate returns to its clogged, unproductive state of the past two years.
The “talking” proposal served as the fault line for Senate Democrats. Junior Democrats have pushed to reform Senate filibuster rules in hopes of making it easier to pass liberal legislation. They pointed to the health-care debate and the compromises that had to be reached just to approve a more centrist law with 60 votes.
Senior Democrats emphasized making the chamber more efficient. Unlike their newly elected colleagues, these Democrats have served in the majority and the minority, and they consider the 60-vote threshold a bedrock principle of the Senate.
In his years in the minority, Reid used filibusters and other procedural hurdles to block construction of a nuclear waste facility outside Las Vegas. Levin and others used filibusters to protect wage laws for union members. Senior female Democrats used filibusters to preserve abortion rights when Republicans controlled every branch of the federal government.
These senior Democrats want more debates on legislation and issues, more votes on substantive matters, and they viewed Thursday’s proposals as a potentially significant breakthrough.
“It could well be the beginning of needed civility and needed bipartisanship around here. This could be a tipping point,” said Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.).