For over a year now, liberal pundits and activists have been calling on the Senate to reform or end the filibuster, which Republicans have used in the past few years to obstruct a wide range of Democratic legislation and to tie up the Senate for days and weeks at a time. Reform proponents have suggested a number of plans, the most popular of which has been the "Constitutional Option," proposed by Democratic Senator Tom Udall, which allows the Senate to change its rulebook by a simple majority on its first day in a new session. Democrats could hypothetically reform the filibuster with only 50 votes this way, (it would normally take 67 votes), but they would have to do it this week. Here are their prospects and what Senate-watchers say could--or should--happen.
- How It Would Happen Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler explains that it would start on the Senate's first day back on Wednesday, with Sen. Udall with kicking off the process. "On day one, Udall--or, perhaps, one of his allies--will take the floor, armed with a reform package, and object to the continuation of the previous Senate's rules." But the next steps are "obscure, fragile, and extremely complicated. In fact, it's so involved that the 'first day' of the 112th Senate could actually last for weeks." Beutler outlines the possible process in detail.
- Rulebook Changes Will Be Modest but Meaningful The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes, "In the Senate, we look to be headed towards a very modest package of reforms to the filibuster. The changes themselves are likely to be very minimal, but the fact that changes are being considered is consequential: Historically, major filibuster reforms have been a multi-Congress effort, and we may look back in a few years and recognize this as the beginning of one."
- Without Leadership Push, Filibuster's Demise Unlikely The Guardian's Michael Tomasky writes, "The other possibility is that Harry Reid, not known as a great adherent of filibuster reform, works out some very modest arrangements with Mitch McConnell, and that's all they do. The bottom line is that any lowering of the 60 threshold is actually pretty unlikely. So the bottom line is this: the odds probably support a big fight at the beginning of the session that increases ill will but doesn't actually change much! Feel better?"
- What Filibuster Reform Lite Would Look Like "The reforms are expected to focus on increasing the cost of launching a filibuster," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "Senators would actually have to stand on the floor, Mr. Smith style, and the Senate would be unable to work on other business while a filibuster is taking place. The reforms will probably attempt to end secretive practices such as the 'hold,' which enables senators to anonymously block legislation from being debated. Other reforms being discussed include narrowing the scope of votes that can be filibustered and reducing the length of debate after senators have successfully voted for cloture."
- Reform It, Don't Kill It The New York Times calls rules reform a "momentous decision" and says that "the Senate should seize the opportunity." Still, the editors say the filibuster "remains a valuable tool for ensuring that a minority of senators cannot be steamrollered into silence. No one is talking about ending the practice."