WASHINGTON -- The effort to reform the rules of the Senate has often been dismissed as idealistic reverie on the part of a small group of frustrated or immature lawmakers.
When retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) gave his farewell floor address on Nov. 30, for instance, it was tinged with a layer of condescension for advocates of filibuster reform, whom Dodd argued didn't understand the customs of the Senate or life in the chamber's minority. And while the banking chairman's opinion was not necessarily the prevailing one, it did underscore a larger point: An effort to reform the Senate's rules would require outside pressure on veteran lawmakers in addition to the inside game being played by pro-reform Democrats.
On Monday morning, a coalition of like-minded, largely progressive organizations announced that they would be launching a long-term-focused effort called Fix the Senate Now to build support for rules reform.
The announcement, obtained in advance by The Huffington Post, includes eight distinct principles for altering Senate procedures -- some of which are already being championed by lawmakers, some of which have found their way into pieces of legislation.
1. On the first legislative day of a new Congress, the Senate may, by majority vote, end a filibuster on a rules change and adopt new rules.
2. There should only be one opportunity to filibuster any given measure or nomination, so motions to proceed and motions to refer to conference should not be subject to filibuster.
3. Secret "holds" should be eliminated.
4. The amount of delay time after cloture is invoked on a bill should be reduced.
5. There should be no post-cloture debate on nominations.
6. Instead of requiring that those seeking to break a filibuster muster a specified number of votes, the burden should be shifted to require those filibustering to produce a specified number of votes to continue the filibuster.
7. Those waging a filibuster should be required to continuously hold the floor and debate.
8. Once all Senators have had a reasonable opportunity to express their views, every measure or nomination should be brought to a yes or no vote in a timely manner.
Surprisingly, most of the coalition's member groups have thus far remained anonymous. Of the dozen-plus organizations that reportedly comprise the larger group, only the government-transparency group Common Cause, the Communications Workers of America and the environmental-advocacy group The Sierra Club have disclosed their participation. This may owe to the fact that the composition of the Senate is about to change somewhat drastically.
The broader effect of that change on the rules-reform movement may be less than expected, however. Dodd, for example, likely would not have backed an effort to reform the filibuster. His replacement, Dick Blumenthal, hasn't been quoted widely on the topic but would seemingly be a bit more amenable. So is retiring Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh's Republican replacement, Dan Coats, who said recently, "I think what we need is the opportunity to debate and have an up-or-down vote on every issue."