Monday, January 7, 2013

The Merkely/Udall Senate Reform Proposal

After I wrote a post this morning about post-cloture time, I realized I've now written on each of the four provisions in the Merkley/Udall Senate reform proposal, but not gathered it all together. So here's the short version of my critique of their proposal, along with links to what I've said in more depth about each bit.

Overall, I think it's a disappointing proposal, although overall I do think it would be at least somewhat better than the status quo. Perhaps the problem isn't so much Merkley and Udall, but the Senators they much build support from...it's very hard to tell, and if it's their judgement that it's better to put together a modest proposal that might pass than a more ambitious one that would not, well, they're in a much better position than I am to know the best strategy. At any rate, here goes:

1. Eliminate filibuster on the "motion to proceed." I'm pretty ambivalent about this one. Basically, I have very little interest in the "should" argument here about things getting to the floor, and I'm not convinced that requiring 60 votes to get something to the floor really matters much as long as it takes 60 votes to pass it. On the other hand, I don't think there's anything really wrong with getting rid of the additional filibuster opportunity.

2. Talking filibuster. Well, everyone who reads my stuff knows what I think about this: it won't work as intended, and therefore is a waste of time -- and, even worse, insisting on a Jimmy Stewart element to a new rules configuration makes the already very difficult task of finding a middle ground between strict majority party rule and the current dysfunctional 60 vote Senate even harder. So, no, I don't like this one.

3. Reduce post-cloture time on nominations. I'd do it slightly differently, but basically this one is an improvement over the status quo. It might in fact expedite nominations a bit.

4. Eliminate all three of the opportunities for filibuster in order to get a bill to conference after it passes. I strongly support this one. Obviously it only matters on legislation, not nominations, and it doesn't keep anything from passing. And there are other reasons for the demise of proper conference committees. But, sure, there's no reason I can think of that the minority should be able to stall at this point.

I'll say one more thing about the talking filibuster. As much as I (and, perhaps not quite as strongly, various Senate scholars) don't think it'll do any good, it does appear to be the case that a lot of Senators, including Mitch McConnell, think it's a fairly big deal. Possibilities? They're right, I'm wrong; they're wrong, I'm right; they don't really think it's a big deal but they're bluffing about it; McConnell doesn't think it will change anything but it will make his job personally more difficult until Democrats accept that it's a dead letter.

Two more quick links. I've also blogged about the McCain/Levin bipartisan reform proposal. And I do believe that if Democrats do have the votes to impose Merkley/Udall by a slim majority, then I think that they might have the leverage to achieve a logical compromise which would actually be better than either existing plan. At least, better from my point of view -- in part because, contrary of the interests of the majority party, it would preserve the ability of all Senators to offer amendments.

So: kudos to Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall (and Tom Harkin) for working hard on this one, but I really do hope that they'll continue to improve their proposal (and hope that enough Democrats will support it to make a compromise sensible, and then that enough Republicans will be willing to bargain that a compromise can actually happen). The Senate is gone for two weeks now; this might be resolved very quickly when they get back.

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