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Udall keeps filibuster reform drumbeat going

Udall keeps filibuster reform drumbeat going

Sen. Tom Udall continues to advance his cause of changing the Senate rules to reduce the role of the filibuster and the ability of a minority of senators to delay legislation from being voted on — in some cases indefinitely — in the Senate.

“The institution is broken,” Udall said on a conference call with reporters. “It’s broken, it needs help.”

This echoes an argument that Udall made earlier this week on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show.

“A filibuster used to be something that was extraordinarily rare,” Udall told Maddow Tuesday night. “You know in LBJ’s days, back in the 1954 to 1961 period, he only had to cut — and this is six years — cut one filibuster off in that period. This year, Harry Reid had to cut off 84.”

Udall’s solution to gridlock in the Senate is through what he calls the Constitutional Option. He cites Article 1, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the portion which says, “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.”

Three previous times, the Senate has used its right to change rules on the first day of a new Congress, according to Udall. However, using the Constitutional Option is just one step along the process of reforming the Senate, he warns.

When the vice president cuts off debate and moves to adopt rules by majority vote on the first day of Congress, something not seen since the 1970s, at least 51 Senators must agree on a rules package. There are some popular changes, according to Udall, including support for eliminating secret holds and making all secret holds transparent.

Some Senate experts say it doesn’t necessarily have to be on the first day of the new Congress, but Udall is pushing for it to happen then.

Other ideas include eliminating the filibuster and just requiring 51 votes to end debate.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., also spoke to reporters about the Constitutional Option and the need to change Senate procedures. “The Senate is broken, continuous debate and some other changes would help a great deal,” Merkley said, echoing a theme by Udall.

Udall noted that while the Senate “had some big achievements, there is no doubt,” he said examples of the Senate failing to pass other important bills easily came to mind. “Not a single appropriations bill made it to the floor,” Udall told reporters.

Udall said that he isn’t trying to make the Senate another version of the House, where he served for a decade before running for Senate.

“I think all of you have observed that we’ve done no appropriations this year,” Merkley told reporters. “It’s very much damaging our advise and consent function.”

“I think it’s a very important one when we’re trying to come together in the proposal that will make the institution work better.”

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