The current Senate rules enable obstruction and block progress on a range of issues key to America’s future. In past years, our nation was able to move forward on landmark legislation that put in place workers’ rights, civil rights, retirement security for seniors and so much more.
THE PROMISE AND REALITY OF SENATE RULES REFORM THIS CONGRESS
At the beginning of the current, 112th Congress, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced a “gentlemen’s agreement” to break the procedural gridlock that kept the Senate tied in knots through most of 2010.
A package of meaningful Senate reforms backed by reform-minded Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Tom Harkin (D-IA) and supported by the Fix the Senate Now coalition failed to achieve a majority, with one falling just two votes short of passage. However, we hoped that the modest steps away from obstruction outlined in the “gentleman’s agreement” would be honored. Unfortunately, the Senate quickly defaulted to its obstructionist tendencies.
According to research by David Waldman of Congress Matters and Daily Kos, this current 112th Congress already has witnessed the third highest total of cloture motions ever filed. The only two sessions to see greater levels of obstruction were the immediately preceding 110th and 111th sessions.
CONSEQUENCES OF OBSTRUCTION
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) infamously declared that his “single most important” goal was to make President Obama a “one-term president.” His playbook from the start of the Obama Administration was simple – to convince his caucus to obstruct anything and everything. As a result, to an extent unprecedented in American history, 60 votes became the needed threshold for nearly every order of Senate business.
Republicans derailed energy and climate legislation, halted the DREAM Act, which passed the House while receiving 55 votes in the Senate, and blocked any debate on the Employee Free Choice Act, which passed the House with an overwhelming majority and garnered 59 supporters in the Senate. Most recently, in July, the DISCLOSE Act – which would have increased transparency over independent groups’ campaign spending – failed to overcome a Republican filibuster and died, despite receiving support from 51 Senators and past support from many current Republican opponents. Also in July, Senate Republicans blocked the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would have encouraged in-sourcing by providing tax incentives to companies that bring jobs back to the United States from overseas.
Separately from blocking substantive legislation, Republicans have used Senate rules to gum up even the most basic levers of governance. As Gregory Kroger, a University of Miami political scientist and filibuster expert, said, “The Senate has ceased to be a functioning organization.”