SENATE RULES REFORM – LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING AHEAD
2013 was a watershed year for U.S. Senate rules reform. After years of unprecedented obstruction, the Senate adopted reforms in November 2013 to allow majority votes to end filibusters of most presidential nominees. These changes are good for our democracy. But more is needed.
UNPRECEDENTED OBSTRUCTION AND FAILED “GENTLEMEN’S AGREEMENTS”
November’s Senate reforms were not made rashly – far from it. Despite a “gentlemen’s agreement” between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in January 2011, Senate Republicans quickly returned to obstruction-as-usual. In January 2013, despite strong support for reforms backed by the Fix the Senate Now coalition, another handshake agreement between the Senate leaders again failed to end the gridlock.
By mid-2013, it was clear that well-qualified nominees were being blocked simply to leave the jobs vacant. With Republicans denying “yes-or-no” votes to nominees regardless of their merits, Senator Reid and the rest of the Democratic caucus decided that they had no choice but to embrace Senate reforms.
LOOKING AHEAD – ADDITIONAL SENATE REFORMS NEEDED
The Senate Democrats’ November 2013 rules reforms saw immediate results. However, the Senate still has work to do to fully earn back the trust of the American people and live up to its best traditions. In the wake of the November 2013 reforms, Republicans found new ways to slow Senate operations to a crawl. Areas ripe for further Senate reform include, most notably, the “use it or lose it” provision to address time-wasting associated with the hours spent debating a nominee after a vote to end a filibuster.
Throughout the Obama presidency, Senate Republicans have turned 60 votes into the default threshold for nearly every order of Senate business; something unprecedented in American history. Until the Senate raises the costs of obstruction to make partisan gridlock a less viable strategy, we will continue to explore additional reforms to fix the broken Senate and improve the health of our democracy.