Senate Squanders Chance for Meaningful Filibuster Reform

January 24, 2013

Senate leaders today enacted a bipartisan package of rules changes designed to expedite Senate consideration of legislation and nominations, while failing to advance meaningful filibuster reform.

The deal alters Senate Rules, allowing the chamber to minimize post-cloture debate on motions to proceed with the permission of a bipartisan group of 16 senators. It also consolidates the number of motions required to form a conference committee to reconcile differences between House and Senate legislation. In addition, the deal enacts temporary procedures that sunset at the end of the 2014. One gives the Majority Leader the power to avoid filibusters on motions to proceed by guaranteeing the minority two opportunities to offer amendments. The other streamlines the confirmation process for some executive and judicial nominees.  

The agreement keeps the silent filibuster intact and fails to impose any costs on the minority when it engages in obstructionist tactics, sustaining its de facto veto power. 

“Today, the Senate once again squandered its best chance this session for meaningful filibuster reform. Recent Brennan Center research documents the dramatic increase in Senate obstruction in recent years and the urgent need to curb Senate dysfunction. Today’s proposed rule change, while offering minor procedural changes that could expedite legislation, does nothing to alter the abuse of silent, costless, filibusters to block votes on legislation. The public’s strong support of filibuster reform showed the American people wanted, expected, and deserved more. We are encouraged by the strong leadership shown by some of the Senate’s veteran and newest members, especially Senators Merkley, Udall, and Harkin, and we will continue to work with them to implement common sense reforms so the Senate can address the critical issues facing our nation,” said Diana Kasdan, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.