On Filibuster Reform, Advocates Claim Momentum

01/03/2013 06:09 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

WASHINGTON -- The Senate postponed debate on reforming the filibuster Thursday, as advocates cited the support of 48 senators for eliminating the silent filibuster using the so-called constitutional option, a measure that requires 50 votes plus that of the vice president.

During a briefing on Capitol Hill, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) updated reporters on their joint effort, which is also being shepherded by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

The remaining seven within the Democratic caucus who have yet to sign on are Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a source familiar with the whip count told The Huffington Post.

A coalition of progressive groups is also keeping up the pressure for reform, such as advocacy group CREDO Action, which targeted wavering senators Wednesday.

Despite some opposition, Udall was confident about the proposal’s prospects, telling reporters, "Momentum is on our side -- my uncle Mo used to refer to the 'big mo.'" Udall's uncle, Mo Udall, was a longtime Arizona congressman. Udall said he anticipates having enough Democratic votes to pass reform using what advocates call the constitutional option, but what opponents refer to as the “nuclear option.”

“I believe we have 51 votes to utilize the constitution and go forward with rules change,” Udall said, implying that enough of the remaining seven would swing their way to push them over the top. If the chamber was deadlocked at 50-50, Vice President Joe Biden, who supports filibuster reform, would break the tie.

The main component of the Merkley-Udall approach is the talking filibuster, which still enables the minority to filibuster legislation but would require them to do so by actually standing and speaking on the floor. Additionally, the proposal would also streamline conference committee assignments and nominations, and eliminate the motion to proceed -- a motion typically offered by the majority leader to bring up a bill or other measure for consideration.

Their plan is currently in competition with a bipartisan plan more recently introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), and backed by six other senators. Merkley told reporters the competing package “as put out, does nothing to take on the secret, silent filibuster that is haunting this body.” The Levin-McCain counterproposal, which was unveiled last week, has also come under attack by a large coalition of progressive and labor organizations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced earlier on Thursday that he will recess the chamber at the close of the day’s proceedings, thereby extending the first legislative day of the new Congress to maintain his ability to reform the Senate’s filibuster rules later this month.

“The Senate is simply not working as it should,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “We will reserve the right of all Senators to propose changes to the Senate rules, and we will explicitly not acquiesce in the carrying over of all the rules from the last Congress.”

Merkley confirmed to HuffPost shortly after the briefing that the filibuster reform debate will begin on Jan. 22.

The 112th Congress, which was proclaimed the least productive since the 1940s, utilized the filibuster nearly 400 times.

A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in late November found that 65 percent of Americans believe senators should have to participate in debate for the duration of a filibuster, while only 9 percent of those polled said that senators should be able to filibuster without being physically present.

This story was updated to include the full quote from Udall.

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