Senate Liberals Looking to Ban Filibuster in 2011

With an even smaller majority in the 112th Congress next year, some Senate Democrats are pushing harder in their attempts to stop the use of the filibuster, the exclusive-to-the-Senate procedure that requires votes to have a 60-vote majority instead of a 51-vote majority.

The Hill newspaper reports that Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown has joined up with other Democrats to try to ban the filibuster which has been used to great success by Republicans recently to block more liberal legislation passed by the House of Representatives from getting through the Senate:

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) has also been exploring options for filibuster reform, and suggested that the Senate might exercise the "constitutional option" and change Senate rules with a simple majority of votes on the first day of its next session. Since the Constitution gives the House and Senate the power to set their own rules, Udall's proposal would seem to bypass the higher threshold required to change Senate rules.

"We can fix it on the first day, because with 51 senators and utilizing the constitutional option, we can move to a situation where we change the rules," Udall said last night on MSNBC. "Obviously, I may be in the minority at some point, so I want minority rights protected. But we can make the Senate work more efficiently. And that's what we're working on right now." [...]

Republicans' willingness to filibuster legislation has led to several options for reform that Senate Democrats have studied. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has held meetings on the idea, and the options for reform include ideas ranging from requiring senators to speak continuously during an actual filibuster to lowering the threshold of votes that can end a filibuster. [...]

Still, it could be difficult to secure any agreement to change the rules. Under Senate protocol, 67 senators would have to agree to change filibuster rules, meaning that at least nine GOP senators would have to vote for a change. That could be especially difficult, considering Republicans are still in the minority in the Senate in the next two years.

There will likely be some tension on that last point since it's not quite clear that filibuster changes will require a 67-vote margin. In the past, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has found a few ways to make procedural changes with only 51-vote majorities, most famously with the passage of the gigantic health care bill passed almost one year ago by the Senate.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013