While the provisions included in the likely agreement may help with streamlining certain nominations, potentially a significant step forward, 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. While certain details remain important and unresolved, such as potential conditions attached to the elimination of filibusters on the motion to proceed, we know enough to sum up the agreement as follows: a missed opportunity to provide meaningful filibuster reform, while advancing some decent procedural improvements.
To support the push for real reform, dozens of organizations involved in the Fix the Senate Now coalition sent over 2.5 million emails to members on the importance of fixing the Senate, leading to 100,000 phone calls and nearly one million petition signatures delivered to Senate offices. The coalition, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Americans who contacted their Senators supporting real change, views the minor reforms likely to take hold as a missed opportunity to deliver a truly functional, deliberative, and accountable U.S. Senate. However, there is no doubt the public’s demand for change helped to enact even these incremental steps forward and has put the Senate on notice that the obstruction must end.
Of particular note, the tireless advocacy of reform champions Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tom Udall (D-NM) in combination with the engagement of coalition members strengthened the negotiating hand of Senator Reid and helped bring Senator McConnell to a compromise position – not a place Senator McConnell has frequently found himself in recent years.
We hope the Senate proves our overall skepticism wrong and that the new agreement helps the chamber embark on a productive and deliberative session – the hundreds of thousands of individuals who joined the effort for a more functional U.S. Senate deserve this much
Before the start of the 112th Congress, in December 2010 and January 2011, the Alliance for Justice, the Brennan Center, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Common Cause, the Sierra Club, United Auto Workers (UAW) and Voices for Progress led a broad coalition of progressive organizations, dubbed Fix the Senate Now, to support the Senate rules reform effort championed by Senators Merkley, Udall, and Harkin.
Recognizing that the modest “gentlemen’s agreement” package of reforms agreed to at the start of this Congress hasn’t changed the rampant obstructionism in the Senate, the Fix the Senate Now coalition is re-engaging, making the case that substantial Senate rules reform in the next Congress is still needed.