Senate Democrats Plot Rule Changes

A band of "Senate Democrats signaled on Monday that it would press forward when Congress convenes this week with a proposal to curtail filibusters and other methods of slowing the chamber’s work, but a bit of procedural sleight-of-hand could delay any floor fight over the contentious rules changes until later in January," the New York Times reports.

Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, said that he intended to call for new limits on filibusters that would require senators to be on the floor if they seek to derail legislation. He and other Democrats, frustrated at Republicans’ ability to tie up the Senate, want to make it harder to erect other procedural obstacles as well.

Citing the Constitution and prior Senate rulings, Mr. Udall has argued that senators have the ability to change the chamber’s rules by a majority vote on the first day of the new Congress, which for the 112th Congress begins at noon Wednesday.

“I am intending on offering my constitutional option on the first day,” Mr. Udall said in a telephone interview as he prepared to return to Capitol Hill.

Senate leaders, seeking more time for bipartisan talks aimed at avoiding a potentially disruptive showdown on the Senate floor, are preparing a tactic that would let negotiations continue while maintaining the ability of Democrats to press ahead with their changes if talks prove fruitless.

In essence, Democrats could put the Senate in recess at the conclusion of Wednesday’s mainly ceremonial proceedings to be highlighted by the swearing in of 13 new senators.

As a result, the Senate would technically still be in the same legislative day when lawmakers returned on Jan. 24, and the backers of the rules changes could proceed at that point if they were not satisfied. Mr. Udall could also seek other guarantees that his right to challenge the rules was not harmed by the delay, which he said could give him more time to build support for his plan.

Other possible changes:

Besides forcing senators to take the floor to defend their filibusters, Democrats also want to make it harder to stonewall the initial effort to bring a measure to the floor, a step known as the “motion to proceed.” They also want to ban the ability of senators to place an anonymous “hold” on a bill or nomination.

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Filed under Adjournment / Recess, Rules & Traditions

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