Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is asking his Senate colleagues to join his effort to effectively take away the minority party's power to filibuster legislation.
The Iowa Democrat is planning to introduce legislation in the next few weeks that would alter the parliamentary procedures that have so easily allowed Republicans to derail legislation in this Congress.
"The Senate's current rules allow for a minority as small as one to make elections meaningless," he writes in a letter to colleagues (see below). "The filibuster was once an extraordinary tool used in the rarest of instances... Today, rather than an unusual event, the filibuster (or the threat of a filibuster) is a regular occurrence..."
"The legislation I intend to introduce later this month would amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to permit a decreasing majority of Senators to invoke cloture," Harkin adds. "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 2 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 2 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 2 more days, and 51 votes would be needed to move to the merits of the bill."
A long time proponent of filibuster reform, Harkin introduced a similar bill in the early 1990s. Back then his ally in the cause was Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, then a Democrat. But today, there seems to be limited appetite on the Hill to tackle the topic. A change to Senate rules would require 67 votes for passage and few expect Republicans to unilaterally give up their power to obstruct.
Off the Hill, the Huffington Post has learned that a coalition of progressive groups and labor organizations have begun laying out a potential campaign to pressure lawmakers to revamp the filibuster rules. Meetings and discussions are in their preliminary stages. But following the lethargic health care reform process, there is a growing consensus that some political penalty needs to be applied to Republicans in Congress for their excessive use of the parliamentary tool.
Below is Harkin's Dear Colleague Letter: