One of the leading filibuster reform proponents in the Senate said on Thursday that Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for a growing effort to revamp the chamber's procedural rules, which has been endorsed by Democratic leadership.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) told the Huffington Post in a short phone interview that he and his colleagues have become increasingly convinced that for legislative action to get done, the rules binding them have to be loosened. In particular, the New Mexico Democrat pointed to the role Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) played in unilaterally holding up extensions to unemployment benefits as a particularly galvanizing moment within the Democratic caucus.
"I think the senator from Kentucky made a big mistake in the bill that he picked and, as a result of that, he became the poster child for the obstruction in the Senate," he said. "As soon as people learned that people were going to be cut off of unemployment benefits, that construction projects where people were working were going to be stopped, and one senator was doing that with, what some thought, [was] the acquiescence of others on his side of the aisle, people were outraged."
"There are discussions now about how we can better highlight the obstruction that's going on," Udall added. "It was just extraordinary, on health care, to be 25 days nonstop during those major snow storms... It was pretty extraordinary."
Under Udall's proposal the Senate would revamp the 60-vote requirement for cloture (and other procedural issues) during the beginning of the next Congress in January 2011. At the start of the 112th Congress, the Senate can legally draft new rules for action -- with Vice President Joe Biden playing the role of president of the Senate. Those new rules could be appealed. But they can only be overturned by a simple majority vote, rather than the 67-vote threshold that accompanies rule change proposals during an ongoing congressional session.
The senator introduced this proposal several weeks ago to limited fanfare. But on Wednesday, he got a big boost when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged to explore filibuster reform efforts and hinted that he would look toward the start of the next Congress for action.
"The filibuster has been abused. I believe that the Senate should be different than the House and will continue to be different than the House," Reid said. "But we're going to take a look at the filibuster. Next Congress, we're going to take a look at it. We are likely to have to make some changes in it, because the Republicans have abused that just like the spitball was abused in baseball and the four-corner offense was abused in basketball."
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), likewise, pledged to hold Senate Rules Committee hearings on filibuster reform during the next few weeks.
"I was very encouraged with what Leader Reid said yesterday," Udall told the Huffington Post when asked about Reid's remarks. "He talked about taking a serious look at revising the filibuster rules at the beginning of the next Congress. And as you know, the constitutional option is all about starting at the beginning of Congress, by a majority vote... That is the catalyst for change."
"I can just tell you I had the feeling there was momentum on this," Udall added. "There were stories saying: 'Oh, this is all talk, no action' in terms of trying to view where people were. But I think Senator Reid's comment reflects the momentum that this has. I think it reflects the frustration of the American people. The time's really ripe and growing more ripe."