WASHINGTON -- Advocates of what's come to be called the "talking filibuster" are closing in on the majority needed to reform the rules, according to a whip count compiled by The Huffington Post, based on interviews with Democratic senators and with reform advocates who have spoken with senators. Cross-checking the list with prior voting records and public statements indicates that Democrats could lock up as many as 52 votes by this week, when they are expected to introduce a rules reform package to be voted on in the new year.
An extraordinarily broad coalition of progressive and labor organizations is upping the pressure to include the provision in a package of rules reforms. The coalition of 48 liberal groups, Fix The Senate Now, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his colleagues in leadership on Monday morning. A copy was provided exclusively to HuffPost and it calls for a variety of reforms, including the talking filibuster being pushed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Another far-reaching reform the group asks for is to put the onus on the minority to find 41 votes to block legislation, rather than forcing the majority to find 60.
Reid has vowed to press forward at the beginning of the next Congress, and the coming week is crucial for reform. The entire caucus is expected to meet to come to a consensus around what specific reforms to propose, and the leadership is scheduled to meet to strategize on the way forward.
Nailing down at least 50 votes, however, doesn't guarantee success. Advocates worry that Reid may use the prospect of victory on the most ambitious reform to persuade Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to cave and agree to a milder set of reforms. Those would likely include provisions that would speed up the pace of action in the Senate without altering the fundamental nature of minority rights. Under the current rules, the minority can filibuster the same piece of legislation multiple times throughout the process, requiring Reid to pull together 60 votes each time, and then wait a prescribed 30 hours before the next vote. Even if the majority has 60 votes, these multiple filibusters can chew up a full week of Senate time on just one bill. Reid has proposed disallowing the filibuster on a motion to proceed to debate, and also barring filibusters on efforts to set up a conference committee to deal with legislation that has already passed the Senate. Reid also wants to streamline the nomination process, and cut out some of the time it takes to move judges through by limiting debate once a filibuster has been defeated. Republicans and some Democrats, meanwhile, want rules written that would open up the amendment process. If Republicans agree to some of the changes pushed by Reid, he may be inclined to shelve Merkley's proposal for the talking filibuster, even though it appears to have enough votes to pass.
A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found wide support for requiring senators to take the floor in order to filibuster, with 65 percent in support and only 9 percent opposed.
The talking filibuster is the most ambitious reform on the table. A version of it, also backed by Merkley, came to a vote in early 2011, when it was defeated 49-46. Five of those yea-voting Democrats are no longer in the Senate, leaving reformers with a base of 41 votes. One Democrat who didn't vote, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), supports the talking filibuster, putting the tally at 42.
Eight incoming senators who caucus with Democrats have expressed support for it -- Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Tim Kaine (Va.), Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Angus King (Maine) -- putting the number at 50. Simply having voted for a similar measure in the past, and expressing support for the concept subsequently, however, doesn't guarantee that a senator will support it again. Once Democrats release their full package of proposed reform, the process of firmly nailing down 51 votes begins in earnest.
But if those who have backed reform in the past combine with senators who have more recently voiced support for it, Vice President Joe Biden or Reid would both be in a position to put the measure over the top. The Constitution allows the vice president to break ties in the Senate.
There may be one more possibility: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) didn't vote in 2011, and has been presumed to be opposed to major changes. But on Thursday she told HuffPost that she has met with Merkley and plans to study his proposal with an open mind. "I was just talking with him. I have his paper. I'm looking at it. We'll see," she said. Asked if she'd back Reid's move to change the rules absent a deal with Republicans, she didn't rule it out. "Well, that's a hypothetical question, I don't really know what the answer to it is. I will only say this: I think the time has come to look at real reform. I'm one that believes very strongly that cloture should not be allowable on a motion to proceed. We're here to debate. We're adults. This is a body, a hundred of us, to vote," she said. "To protect that absence of a vote by cloture you never have to take a position on the issue."
Democratic opponents in 2011 include Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Max Baucus (Mont.). Levin is the most outspoken opponent of rules changes within the caucus. Pryor, meanwhile, dramatically increased his stature thanks to his involvement in the 2005 "Gang of 14" -- a bipartisan group of senators who thwarted then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) attempt to change the rules to overcome Democratic filibusters of GOP judicial nominations. Pryor appears reluctant to take part in an effort that would undermine the image he crafted as a leader of the Gang of 14. He is also up for election in 2014 and likely worried about appearing overly partisan. In 2010, Pryor's Democratic colleague from Arkansas, former Sen. Blanche Lincoln, was wiped out in a landslide.
Under the current rules, the Senate majority could in fact force the opposition to continue talking, by keeping 51 senators on the floor at all times. Reid has employed that maneuver in the past, to no avail, and it's exceedingly difficult to pull off for an extended length of time.
Before Democrats vote on the talking filibuster or any other rules reforms, they would first have to vote to change the rules with fewer than two-thirds of the chamber in support -- what proponents call the "constitutional option" and what critics call the "nuclear option."
A number of senators who had been leery of going nuclear now are ready to press the button. "Democrats are considering three rules changes, and in the best of all worlds I wish we could just to do them on a bipartisan basis and come very close to what's being discussed," Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) told HuffPost. "If we can't, then at the end of the day, the need for change is so dramatic that we should use this constitutional approach."
Also on HuffPost:
Nuts Bring Buckets of Same
Just in case anyone forgot that the House Judiciary Committee ACORN hearing was a House Judiciary Committee hearing about ACORN, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/02/acorn-hearing-a-barrel-of_n_376882.html">Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) helpfully brought a bucket of acorns</a> to the House Judiciary Committee. Also that day, colleague Lamar Smith praising the "turnout so early in the day" at 2:30pm, and Louie Gohmert offering up the malaprop: “From one acorn, many nuts can grow.” Like, say, Peter King.
Hello Kitty, Hello Revolving Debt
Credit cards. Were it not for them, we would have to save up money in order to buy things. But do some credit cards take it too far, marketing to the youths? Byron Dorgan thought so when he saw the Hello Kitty Platinum VISA. "Does it seem to you like they’re targeting that 10-year-old, the 14-year-old." Ha! He should see the <a href="http://www.shopinprivate.com/hello-kitty-pink-guilty.html">Hello Kitty vibrator</a>.
"I'll See Your Baby, And Raise You Two Tweens"
Last time out, we made mention of Representative John Shadegg's (R-Ariz.) attempt to wield a baby in order to make a point about how terrible health care reform was. We neglected to mention that Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.) took it a step further, and attempted to bring two young children to make his own points about health care (5:25 in video), at which point the House was officially barred from trafficking in human props any further.
John Thune's Stackin' Dollars
How much is too much stimulus? When it allows representatives to make junior high math analogies based on topography and astronomy, maybe. Here, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) makes some stupid pictures of dollar stacks that extend into the sky, to the celestial firmament itself. “If you took 100 dollar bills, Mr. President," Thune said, "and stacked them on top of each other you would have a stack that goes 689 miles high.” He added, "In other words, if you took the 100 dollar bills and not stacked them on top of each other, but wrapped them side-by-side all around the earth… If you could believe this, it’d go around the earth almost 39 times." So, we cannot stimulate the economy, because of science! (1:15 in clip)
Gettin' High On Your Own Supply (Of A Substance That Does Not Get You High)
Representative Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) wasn't having any of that whole "regulating tobacco" stuff. Why? Because it's "not the nicotine that kills, it's the smoke!" So, he argued, why don't we regulate lettuce, to keep people from smoking lettuce? Wouldn't that prevent a "pandemic" of cancers? This would have been a good point, were it not for the non-existence of either a massive industry geared toward curing lettuce and rolling it into cigarettes, or a target market of consumers who were even remotely interested in smoking lettuce. BUT YEAH OTHER THAT ALL THAT STUFF (and the fact that nicotine is addictive) STEVE BUYER IS A GENIUS.
And Now, A Poem From Ted Poe
From Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas): <i>It came on two pages, It has withstood the ages. / The word "shall,'' is only 10 times mentioned, But enough to get one's attention. / No taxes did this law raise, To this day it continues to create much praise; / Two great religions does it claim, The "Law of the Ten Commandments'' is its name. / A current writing, 1,990 pages long, Has a socialist philosophy that is all wrong; / Difficult for the people to understand, And troubling what big government doth demand. / Over 3,445 "shalls'' it does loudly shout, New massive taxes does it proudly tout; / Written in secret by the bureaucrats, For exclusive use of the taxacrats. / The Congressional bill called "Health Care Reform," Is illusionary, the authors are still ill-informed; / Government ought not take over America's health biz. / And that's just the way it is."</i> And so, America, this is why you should have to die of easily treated medical conditions.
And Now, An Even Dumber Poem, From Roland Burris
From the junior senator from Illinois: <i>"It was the night before Christmas, and all through the Senate / The right held up our health care bill, no matter what was in it / The people had voted a mandated reform / But Republicans blew off the gathering storm / We'll clog up the Senate, they cried with a grin / And in the midterm elections, we'll get voted in / They knew regular folks needed help right this second / But fundraisers, lobbyists and politics beckoned / So try as they might, Democrats could not win / Because the majority was simply too thin / Then across every state there rose such a clatter / The whole senate rushed out to see what was the matter / All sprang up from their desk and ran from the floor / Straight through the cloakroom and right out the door."</i> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/22/burris-backs-reform-with_n_400456.html">There's more</a>, but you will probably want to shoot yourself in the face after you read it.
Chuck Grassley Goes All Aggro On The Speaker Box
For some reason, in the course of discussing fuel efficiency standards, Senator Chuck Grassley decided he should drive his point home by shouting out Ashton Kutcher and his movie, "Dude, Where's My Car." Prior to this, Grassley went on an <a href="http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Speech_by_GOP_Senator_references_stoner_0924.html">extended monologue</a> about Pink Floyd's <i>Dark Side of the Moon</i> album and the shards of a broken prism and the "multishades" of light. Just straight up tripping balls, in the well of the Senate. Anyway, as you now know, this TOTALLY fixed fuel efficiency standards!
Sam Brownback Will Save Your Inanimate Genetic Material
Who's looking out for your precious bodily fluids? Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, that's who. And he's enlisted the help of a young girl, named Hannah, who has the power of talking to human embryos! "<a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2006/07/18/brownback-embryo/">Are you going to kill me?</a>" the embryos asked Hannah, who immediately scrawled a picture of this conversation on a giant piece of posterboard, so that Sam Brownback could stop people from killing the stem cells. And then Sam Brownback went on to support a bunch of wars in the Middle East!
The Most Important Prop Of All
James Inhofe (R-Batshit) hates him some gay marriage, and the gays in general. And to make his point, he carries around with him The Most Important Prop in America: a picture of his family. "As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we’ll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship." Ha! THAT HE KNOWS OF!