A week from today, the Senate will reconvene, and the first item of business will be how to deal with the rules for the 112th Congress. Three Senators – Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley and Tom Harkin – will spearhead an effort to change the Senate rules that would attempt to achieve two goals – 1) make it faster to complete legislation and confirmations on which there is broad agreement, and 2) make it harder for obstructionists to carry out filibusters, or at least to make it opaque who is doing the filibustering and why.
The debate has thus far fallen mostly along party lines – all 53 Democrats at one point signed a letter on desiring to change the Senate rules, and Republicans have all made the same arguments against it. Even Scott Brown, up for re-election in Massachusetts in 2012, will not cross party lines to alter the rules, saying that would give “the majority a tactical advantage over the minority,” and we just can’t have that.
Never mind that the proposal on the table doesn’t end the filibuster, the standard trope for the opposition has been for them to say that they don’t want to end the filibuster. And that has extended to Democrats like Mark Pryor:
In 2005, Arkansas’ Sen. Mark Pryor was a group of senators known as the “Gang of 14,” which successfully negotiated a truce on judicial nominations. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., had threatened to use the rule-changing technique similar to the one now being promoted by Udall to push President George W. Bush’s nominees through the chamber.
Now a member of the Senate Rules Committee, Pryor has advised against changing the rules.
“We must protect the minority’s right to debate and amend legislation here in the Senate,” Pryor said.
He noted that the balance in the chamber, which is tilted 53-47 to the Democrats, could lean the other way in the future.
“We should not make these decisions based on what party is in power at the moment,” he said.
As we know, under the rules changes, the minority would actually have MORE of a chance to amend legislation. But I don’t see how someone like Pryor, this dug in on equating any change in the rules to essentially tyranny of the majority, would then move to vote for any proposal.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that there remains no single consensus proposal. The Udall-Merkley-Harkin document has gotten most of the attention, but others have offered changes of their own. Al Franken’s amendment would change the threshold for filibusters from needing 60 to break one to needing 41 to sustain one. Mark Udall has a separate proposal with elements of both Franken’s rule change and Udall-Merkley-Harkin, albeit slightly different. He includes to that ending the option for reading on the floor amendments which are printed in a timely fashion, and end the unanimous consent needed for committees to meet. Claire McCaskill and Ron Wyden seem to be focused entirely on ending secret holds, which is in the Udall-Merkley-Harkin document. As David Waldman says, “the situation is still fluid enough that we can’t have any real idea what the final package of proposed reforms will look like.”
We could have some more information on this later today. For now, there’s no sense of a final agreement, no sense of the status of negotiations, and no sense that the entire Democratic caucus is united. In other words, just a normal Senate proposal.