Use it or Lose It: A Sensible Change for the U.S. Senate to Reduce Time Wasting on Nominees

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Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate has made significant advances in recent weeks toward reducing the judicial backlog and confirming judges to fill key vacancies. Building on the success of last November’s Senate rules changes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats have met Republican obstruction head-on, made nominations a priority, and filled an array of vacancies – including 22 judicial nominees confirmed during just the most recent Senate work period alone.

Despite this progress on judicial nominees, the Senate still faces a major nominee backlog – especially in the executive branch. The biggest obstacle to reducing this backlog is the dedicated strategy of time-wasting that the Republican minority has employed in recent months. For example, a report released earlier this month by Common Cause, “The ‘New Nullification’ At Work,” found nineteen instances since November in which senators have had to waste floor time on cloture votes to end filibusters on judicial nominees…who were then confirmed unanimously by the Senate. 

Resultantly, Senator Reid is raising the possibility of additional Senate rules reform, recently noting, “I’m not interested in changing the rules now. But now is a relative term.” In particular, Senator Reid is highlighting post-cloture time wasting as an area in particular need of reform. In April, Senator Reid lamented how Senate Republicans “waste 30 hours doing nothing” (referring to the maximum 30 hours allotted for post-cloture consideration). And as a Senate aide recently explained to Roll Call, “It’s called debate time for a reason…It’s supposed to be used for debate, not to run out the time arbitrarily. Republicans are making a good case for use it or lose it.” 

The Fix the Senate Now coalition strongly supports this potential “use it or lose it” reform in the Senate. Those dedicated to Senate gridlock and time wasting should have to either use the post-cloture time allotted to debate or discuss relevant matters or else lose the allotted maximum time.  Such a reform would cut down on time wasting, prioritize debate and accountability, and help shift the burden of obstruction on those looking to block or slow the Senate’s progress.

The Common Cause report offers a reminder of the consequences of the current gridlock and why cutting down on time wasting for non-controversial nominees is essential. As of earlier in May, over 110 nominees for executive branch agencies and offices were pending on the Senate floor, compared to just 32 pending executive branch nominations on the floor at the same point in the George W. Bush presidency and 18 at this point in the Bill Clinton presidency. 


For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at media@fixthesenatenow.org

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