Today, on the first day of the 113th Congress, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced a Senate resolution that preserves the Senate tradition of extended debate and deliberation; but reduces the threat of filibuster that has mired the chamber in gridlock. Harkin first introduced this measure in 1995, when Senate Democrats were in the minority. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) joined Harkin in cosponsoring today's effort.
"The abuse of the filibuster in recent years has fundamentally changed the character of the Senate and our entire system of government," said Harkin. "The notion that 60 votes are required to pass any measure or confirm any nominee is not in the Constitution and until recently would have been considered a ludicrous idea that flies in the face of any definition of government by democracy."
From 1917 -- when the Senate first adopted cloture rules for ending debate -- until 1969, there were fewer than 50 motions to end filibusters, or an average of less than one filibuster a year. By contrast, since 2007, the Majority has had to file 391 motions to end filibusters. This number does not include the countless bills and nominees on which the majority has not even tried to obtain cloture, either because of lack of time or because such an exercise would be fruitless.
"At issue is a fundamental principle of our democracy -- majority rule in a legislative body," Harkin continued. "I am not afraid of democracy and my colleagues should not be afraid either. Issues of public policy should be decided at the ballot box, not by manipulation of arcane procedural rules. After ample protections for debate, deliberation and amendments, the majority in the Senate should be allowed to carry out its agenda, to govern, and to be held accountable by the voters."
"I was raised in a country where I thought the majority ruled. For too long, the work we were sent here to do has been mired in delay and dysfunction. It's long past time the abuse of the filibuster be brought to an end," Senator Mikulski said. "When all is said and done, more is said than gets done. I support Senator Harkin in his effort and will keep fighting to break gridlock and deadlock and return to regular order."
The resolution introduced today amends the Standing Rules of the Senate to permit a decreasing majority of Senators to invoke cloture. On the first cloture vote, 60 votes would be needed to end debate. If one did not get 60 votes, one could file another cloture motion and two days later have another vote. That vote would require 57 votes to end debate. If cloture was not obtained, one could file another cloture motion and wait two more days. In that vote, one would need 54 votes to end debate. If one did not get that, one could file one more cloture motion, wait two more days, and 51 votes would be needed to move to the merits of the bill. The resolution also guarantees a certain number of germane amendments.
In addition to their own resolution, Harkin and Mikulski also support the Merkley-Udall "talking filibuster" proposal and the concept that those who wish to obstruct should at the very least be required to come to the floor to debate.