By Ryan Grim
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is joining the fight to reform the filibuster, arguing that change is needed to move beyond "political obstructionism."
"I was elected to put progress ahead of politics and to make sure that Washington works for Wisconsin," said Baldwin in a statement to The Huffington Post. "Unfortunately, Washington has come to be defined by partisan gridlock. Recently, the threat of filibuster has been used far too often and as a result political obstructionism in the United States Senate is now worse than it has ever been. The people of Wisconsin and our state's progressive tradition deserve better."
Baldwin is signing on as a co-sponsor to legislation reforming the filibuster put forward by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.). The effort is also being shepherded by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Debate on the issue is expected to begin as early as Tuesday.
"We face big challenges that demand effective government action and solutions, not more of the same standstill that has become the status quo in Washington," Baldwin said. "The time for reform is now so we can work together to move Wisconsin and America forward."
Senators who currently want to filibuster legislation don't need to go to the floor and talk -- think "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" -- but can instead just raise their hand and object. In order to overcome this block, the majority must muster 60 votes to move on.
During her campaign for election, Baldwin said she was open to considering filibuster reform, but Tuesday was the first time she endorsed the Merkley-Udall proposal, according to her office.
The main component of the bill would reinstitute the "talking filibuster," which was in place until the early 1970s.
"In short, the people have elected a Senate to address issues that majority members have raised in campaigns, but the silent filibuster is preventing the majority from acting on its agenda to address the big issues America faces," explained Merkley in a recent memo to his colleagues on the legislation. "It is our challenge to restore the Senate as a legislative body that, while giving a forum for minority opinions and ideas, can effectively debate and decide issues."
There are two ways the Senate could change the rules: Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could agree to a deal, or Reid could force a vote on the floor if McConnell refuses to cooperate. Reid has already made McConnell an offer.
"The ball is in McConnell's court -- agree to Reid's offer, or let's get it on," said a top Senate Democratic aide.
The Democratic caucus is set to meet on Tuesday to discuss what Reid proposed, and Merkley is going to make his case for the talking filibuster. Reid has expressed support for changing the rules in a way that would put the onus on the minority, requiring them to come up with 41 votes in order to keep a filibuster going.
The Merkley-Udall proposal has competition from a weaker bipartisan plan more recently introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and backed by at least six other senators.
Filibuster reform advocates need 50 votes plus that of the vice president in order to change the rules of the Senate when the chamber reconvenes on Tuesday. Udall has said he is confident they will have enough votes, and the bill has the strong support of progressive groups.