How to Fix It

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Americans deserve a Senate that conducts its business efficiently and fairly, that prioritizes debate and transparency, and that is capable of action on the pressing challenges of our time. Unfortunately, from the start of the Obama Administration, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has abused Senate rules and procedures to gum up Senate operations. This endless gridlock has often been without regard to the merits of the issue or nominee – just obstruction for obstruction’s sake.

The Senate reforms adopted in November 2013 to allow majority votes for most executive and judicial appointees are an important first step. However, there is more work to be done to improve the functioning of the U.S. Senate and the health of our democracy. Since the November 2013 reforms, Senate Republicans have refused to act on noncontroversial Senate business. As a result, addressing time-wasting associated with nominee floor debate time is an area of potential reform.

The Fix the Senate Now coalition supports potential “use it or lose it” reform in the Senate to address the time-wasting and obstruction that has fueled this nominee backlog. Those dedicated to Senate gridlock and time wasting should have to either use the post-cloture time allotted to debate or discuss relevant matters or else lose the allotted maximum time. Such a reform would cut down on time wasting, prioritize debate and accountability, and help shift the burden of obstruction to those looking to block or slow the Senate’s progress. 

Additionally, a range of popular legislation that enjoys majority support in the Senate has been bottled up by ceaseless obstruction. Raising the costs of obstruction will be an important counter to the fact that 60 votes has become the default threshold for nearly every order of Senate business. Proposals backed by reform-minded Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Tom Harkin (D-IA), such as those outlined in January 2013’s Senate Resolution 4 (S.Res.4), remain a positive vision of a functional Senate.

Continued Senate reform is important for the health of our democracy, independent of the short-term partisan implications of such changes.

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What Senate Resolution 4 Does