WASHINGTON — At a caucus meeting late last week, a group of vocal, primarily junior, Senate Democrats urged colleagues to seriously consider reforming the chamber's rules in a response to the Republican leadership's continued threat to filibustering their legislative output.
At a closed-door meeting on Thursday, members pointed to a letter written by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to block any bills prior to dealing with tax cuts and budgets.
"Several Senators got up and said the way the McConnell letter came down and the way Republicans have been blockading everything should be used as a case to make rule changes," a top Senate Democratic aide told the Huffington Post.
This isn't the first time Democrats have tried to ramp up support for reforming the Senate's procedural underpinnings. But the effort is gaining steam, the aide said, relaying that several gray beards in the party have begun embracing the idea as well.
To keep momentum going, two of the chamber's strongest filibuster reform proponents — Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) — have begun circulating a letter written by some of the more prominent congressional academics and historians, laying out the case that procedural obstructionism needs to be modified.
"[A]lthough historical lore says that the filibuster was part of the original design of the Senate, there is no empirical basis for that view," the letter reads. "There is no question that the framers intended the Senate to be a deliberative body. But they sought to achieve that goal through structural features of the chamber intended to facilitate deliberation - such as the Senate's smaller size, longer and staggered terms, and older members. There is no historical evidence."
Udall has gone even a step further, setting up a separate web page on how filibuster reform could make its way through the Senate.
The likelihood of changing the rules of the chamber still comes down to whether or not Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sees a reasonable path for getting reform done with just 50 votes. A smaller Democratic majority in the next Congress makes that less likely. On the other hand, the party is losing one of most outspoken filibuster reform critics: Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
Certainly, McConnell's pledge to hold up lame duck session output has compelled members to take a second glance at altering procedure.
The full letter from the eight congressional experts is below. It's authenticity was confirmed by Udall's office.
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