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Sen. Bennet Introduces Ambitious Filibuster Reform Bill

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Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.) has formally introduced a bill that would fundamentally alter a minority party's capacity to hold up legislative business, becoming another in a handful of Senate Democrats to champion procedural reform.

The freshmen Colorado Democrat filed legislation on Thursday that, among other things, would eliminate the ability of a single Senator to conduct anonymous holds on nominees and revamp the ability of minority parties to launch drawn-out filibusters

The legislative language itself is quite arcane. But the gist of it is this. Cloture votes (those requiring a 60-vote majority to end debate) wouldn't be eliminated. But after three such votes, the threshold for blocking action would be set at 45 Senators. Important here is that Bennet is not focusing on the threshold for passing cloture, which other lawmakers championing filibuster reform have done. Rather, he's putting the onus on the party doing the filibustering to actually come up with the numbers to sustain a filibuster.

There is a catch, however. If the minority party holding up the legislation can find a Senator who caucuses with the majority party to join them in their effort to block cloture, the threshold for blockage would be 41 Senators (meaning that 60 Senators would still be needed to break the filibuster).

But there is one more catch on top of that. If, after the third cloture vote, the majority party were to get the support of three members who caucus with the minority party to vote with them, the threshold for blockage would be raised to 45.

The second procedural area that Bennet tackles involves the process of holds -- in which one Senator can prevent a vote on legislative activity that is being considered by unanimous consent (see: Jim Bunning and unemployment benefits). Under the Bennet's revisions, Senators would not be able to launch holds anonymously. Rather, their names would be published in the Congressional Record "not later than 2 session days after the date of such notice."

But Bennet makes a hold even trickier than that. Any Senator trying to keep a hold going beyond those two days will have to have the support of at least one Senator who caucuses with the other political party. And, "under no circumstance shall a particular objection to a nomination be recognized for more than 30 days."

The goal, as with other filibuster reform efforts, is to provide some flow to a legislative process that is decidedly choppy. Unlike his colleagues, Bennet is actively trying to encourage bipartisan participation by adding an incentive for minority members to recruit majority members to their causes and vice versa.

But this effort faces the same pitfalls as the others. Aides to the Colorado Democrat acknowledge that it would like take 67 votes to pass the bill into law (owing to the fact that it is changing Congressional rules). As of now, Bennet is the lone sponsor on the bill.

READ THE BILL:


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