WASHINGTON -- In a move likely to spur more calls for filibuster reform, a group of conservative Republican senators is demanding that other members of the upper chamber clear all legislation through them in the final two weeks of the year.
The Senate often tries to expedite legislation when time is running short by passing bills with unanimous consent. But in a letter circulated to all senators last week, the GOP's Senate Steering Committee, headed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), declared that more than a dozen of its members will not grant such consent for anything that is not sent to them first, by 5 p.m. on Dec. 18.
"The Senate Steering Committee would like to ensure that there is sufficient time to review all legislation proposed to be passed by unanimous consent in the closing days of the current Congress," the committee said in an email that accompanied the letter.
"The members who have signed the attached letter will regrettably be unable to grant their consent for any bills hotlined [sent] after December 18," the email said.
If a single senator does not agree to a request for unanimous consent, it lays the ground for a filibuster, under which it takes 60 senators to move ahead.
There have been at least 110 filibusters in this session of Congress alone. Democrats recently proposed changing Senate rules so that motions to proceed to consider legislation cannot be filibustered, although the legislation itself could still be blocked. They also want to require the "talking filibuster," in which senators who object to a bill must actually hold forth on the Senate floor to block it.
Since Senate rule changes generally require a two-thirds vote, Democrats have been weighing what opponents call the "nuclear option" -- using procedural steps to change the rules with a simple 51-vote majority when the Senate comes back into session in January.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has argued that use of the nuclear option means Democrats are trying to break the rules to change the rules and that the GOP has only blocked so much legislation because Democrats severely restrict GOP amendments. Republicans warn that if Democrats change the rules as threatened, the traditional more-deliberative nature of the Senate will be destroyed.
"If we change the filibuster rules, that is the end of the United States Senate," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a floor speech Monday.
So far, it isn't clear that Democrats have the votes for the nuclear option, which has been threatened before but not implemented because the two sides worked out their differences.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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