The latest on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal is this. The Senate needs a legislative vehicle to take up repeal. So the House gutted a bill called the “Enhancing Small Business Research and Innovation Act of 2009,” substituted with the legislative DADT repeal, and will pass it in the House, returning it to the Senate as a “privileged message.” This would allow Harry Reid to call it up with only one cloture vote in the way, reducing the amount of time it would take to pass the bill. This also gets around the motion to recommit in the House.
Reading this just makes me sad. Not because the parliamentarians devised some way to accelerate passage of a DADT repeal, but because it takes so much ridiculous hoop-jumping to get there. We have a legislative structure tied up in so many silly conventions of parliamentary procedure, because the powers that be will not just do what’s necessary and create a governing body that can simply pass items by majority vote. They can do this in a fashion that respects the views of the minority by allowing a set amount of amendments, but without the ability for extreme obstruction and delay of items which have majority support. We’re seeing that again today with Jim DeMint forcing the START treaty to be read out loud, which he admits is merely a delaying tool.
Next year, at the beginning of the next Congress, the Senate has the opportunity to change its rules by a majority vote. Tom Udall has been pushing this all year; he calls it “the Constitutional option.” Udall would ask for a ruling from the chair, probably Joe Biden, to make a ruling on the ability of the Senate to change the rules. If Republicans object, Democrats will move to table their objection, and they only need 51 votes to uphold it. After that, the Senate can rewrite the rules.
Some old-line Democrats have been wary of this approach, but you get the sense that they are completely fed up with how the Senate operates. So they have set a date – January 5 – to attempt to change the rules.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has championed a weakening of the procedural mechanism that allows the minority party to hold up legislation, predicted “fireworks” on Jan. 5, 2011 — the day on which the Senate can, he argued, revamp its rules by a simple majority vote.
“There could be some fireworks. There could be some fireworks on January fifth,” Harkin said at a pro-reform event sponsored by several like-minded organizations. “I’m going to be there. I’m armed. I’m armed with a lot of history, and I know the rules, and I know the procedures too, so we will see what happens on the fifth.”
“[Former Sen.] Robert Byrd in 1975, the last time that last time that we changed the rules and [brought the filibuster threshold] from 67 [votes] down to 60, actually stated on the floor that a majority, 51 senators, could change the rules. And that’s what we intend to do and that is what we are working on right now. We are coming on the fifth to basically send a motion to the vice president … that will change the rules and there is a procedure to provide 51 votes to do that. Robert Byrd said that in 1975 and that’s what we are going to try to do.”
Separately today, Sherrod Brown affirmed that there would be a move to get the Senate to change the rules.
What form that rules change would take is still a bit unclear. Jeff Merkley has a proposal to limit the filibuster and force hardship on the Senators carrying it out, while still allowing for minority rights through amendments. Other proposals are out there. Several progressive groups have formed a coalition to reform the filibuster, and their principles align with the Merkley and the Udall plans.
Udall spoke with Rachel Maddow last night about the Constitutional option. This is definitely happening. We’ll see if there are 51 votes to table the objection. But Harkin hinted today that Republicans are bargaining to ensure that the final product would not reach too far. So I’d say something will change after January 5; we just don’t know what yet.