Fix the Senate Coalition to Democratic Congressional Leaders: Now is Time for Senate Rules Reform

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December 17, 2012

Majority Leader Reid, Majority Whip Durbin, and Chairman Schumer:

We are writing to express our support for your calls to reform the rules of the U.S. Senate and encourage you to move forward on a package of reforms on the first legislative day of the 113th Congress.

Facing unparalleled challenges—a languid economic recovery, crushing debt, and threats at home and abroad—the country cannot afford another two years of inaction fostered by outmoded and broken legislative institutions. In recent decades, Senate conventions have devolved to remove incentives for bipartisan comity, collegiality, and compromise. Whereas Senators once resorted to filibustering only in rare and exceptional instances of intense opposition, rampant obstruction has now transformed standard operating procedure. Today, majority rule in the Senate is the exception, not the rule.

We believe that common sense reforms will end routine and reflexive obstruction and will ensure that the Senate will once again be able to address the critical issues facing our country.

Specifically, we believe that any reform of the Senate rules must include the following concepts:

  • Eliminate the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed;
  • Require that those wishing to block legislation or nominations take the floor and actually filibuster— i.e., mandating “talking filibusters”;
  • Assert that 41 Senators must affirmatively vote to continue debate rather than forcing 60 Senators to vote to end debate; and,
  • Streamline the nomination process so that nominees will get a yes or no vote on the Senate floor, including a reduction of the required 30 hours of post cloture debate on a nominee to 2 hours.

These reforms are in the best interest of our democratic system. Recalibrating the filibuster would revive the Senate as a truly deliberative body by encouraging Senators to discuss and debate the vital issues our country must address. Requiring those wishing to slow down or halt legislation through the Senate rules to do so publically on the Senate floor would raise the costs of obstruction so that the filibuster is reserved for instances in which a dedicated minority is intensely opposed to legislation. These much needed reforms would restore accountability on both sides of the aisle.

It is our hope that such common sense reforms would secure overwhelming, bipartisan support. But the acute challenges facing our country demand the restoration of functioning democratic institutions by any constitutional means. If those who derive power and influence from the status quo continue to prevent needed change, the Constitution authorizes the Senate to adopt new internal rules and proceedings by a simple majority vote at the beginning of the new Congress.

We look forward to working with you to ensure that these reforms are enacted during the 113th Congress.

Sincerely,

AAUW
Action for the Common Good
AFL-CIO
AFSCME
Alliance for Justice
Americans for Democratic Action
Association of Flight Attendants - CWA
Brennan Center for Justice
Business and Professional People for the Public Interest
Campaign for America’s Future
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Science and Public Interest
Clean Water Action
Common Cause
CREDO
CREW
CWA
Daily Kos
Democracy 21
Demos
Fair Action Alliance
Feminist Majority
Friends of the Earth
Gamaliel
Greenpeace
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work
League of Conservation Voters
League of Women Voters
LULAC
NAACP
National Action Network
National Council of Women's Organizations
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
Natural Resources Defense Council
NEA
NOW
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Population Action International
Progressive Congress
Public Campaign
Public Citizen
SEIU
Sierra Club
Tides
TWU
UAW
UFCW
United Steelworkers
USAction
Voices for Progress
Woman's National Democratic Club
Women's Research & Education Institute