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This past week, two major organizations publicly came out in support of filibuster reform legislation authored by U.S Senators Tom Udall (D. NM), Jeff Merkley (D. OR) and Tom Harkin (D. IA).  First James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, came out in support of the filibuster reform rules package on Wednesday, January 9th:

I believe those wishing to filibuster a bill must actually hold the floor — and they must be required to actually debate. Most Americans agree. A recent poll conducted by The Huffington Post and YouGov found that 65 percent of Americans believe senators should have to debate for the duration of a filibuster.

That's why the Teamsters Union is supporting the proposal by Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico.

Their proposal would still allow the filibuster to be used — but only sparingly. They would place the burden of breaking the filibuster on the minority. Today, it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. Merkley and Udall would turn that around. Senators who want to filibuster a bill would have to produce 41 votes to sustain it.

There's another benefit to their proposal: It would streamline the process for approving nominations, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.

By making these modest changes, the U.S. Senate could go a long way to restoring its reputation as the place that works for the American people. - James P. Hoffa, The Detroit News, 1/9/13

Hoffa argues that GOP obstructionist tactics like the silent filibuster prevented the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) from becoming law.  The EFCA would've made it easier for workers to start a union.  The House of Representatives passed it in 2008 with a solid majority and it was backed by the majority of Senators.  But the GOP filibuster prevented the EFCA from ever being voted on in the Senate:
Teamsters President James P. Hoffa speaks on behalf of Missouri State Represenative Clint Zweifel, a democratic candidate for Missouri  Treasurer, during a stop in St. Louis on April 25, 2008. (UPI Photo/Bill Greenblatt) (Newscom TagID: upiphotos850538)     [Photo via Newscom]
The modern filibuster makes it far too easy for a tyrannical minority to strangle the democratic process. It's time to reform it and restore majority rule.

Filibuster reform isn't just about union legislation. The House in 2008-09 passed 435 bills, many helpful to working people. The Senate didn't discuss them for one second. It was all too easy for anti-worker extremists to prevent it. - James P. Hoffa, The Detroit News, 1/9/13

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, also came out in support for Udall and Merkley's filibuster reform package on Friday, January 11th:

“This reform package authored by Senators Udall, Merkley, and Harkin deserves the support of any American who is sick and tired of a Washington that doesn't work. This proposal will bring desperately needed transparency and accountability to the Senate, helping end the obstructionism that has done nothing but enrich lobbyists and special interests while failing American families.

Nearly 400 bills have been silently killed by the mere threat of a filibuster, meaning a gesture as minor as a raised hand served to block any debate on the Senate floor and derailed progress to address critical issues such as the climate crisis, clean energy, and clean air and water. This reform package implements a talking filibuster, so that those Senators who stand in the way of the bills that would help solve our nation's most pressing problems show their faces and tell the American people exactly why they object.

Make no mistake – this proposal is the only meaningful reform option on the table. That is why the Sierra Club intends to mobilize our 2.1 million members and supporters to call on their elected representatives to fix the Senate by passing this bill, ending the obstructionism, and getting to work doing the job they were elected to do.” - Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, 1/11/13

Brune is a co-founder of the Democracy Initiative campaign that consists of other great progressive and liberal groups that helped Democrats make major gains in the 2012 election.  Brune along with Greenpeace's Phil Radford, Communication Workers of America (CWA) president Larry Cohen, and NAACP president Ben Jealous founded Democracy Initiative as way to form a strong coalition of the left whose main objectives include getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation:

But the most pressing issue right now for Democracy Initiative members is Senate rules reform. At the December meeting, attendees heard from Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) on rule changes to curb the spiraling use of filibusters to block legislation. The use of the filibuster has exploded in recent years, and Republicans now block up-or-down votes on nearly everything in the Senate, requiring Democrats to muster 60 votes to conduct even the most routine business. Liberal groups in the Democracy Initiative want to fix that, and they used the December meeting to plan a coordinated push to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to rewrite the rules. Democrats have until January 22, when the window closes on easy rules changes, to get the reforms they want. - Mother Jones, 1/9/13
Democracy Initiative now has up to 35 major organizations as part of their growing coalition that includes top officials from the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, Public Campaign, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Common Cause, Voto Latino, the Demos think tank, Piper Fund, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, People for the American Way, National People's Action, National Wildlife Federation, the Center for American Progress, the United Auto Workers, and Color of Change.

I for one am ecstatic about this large coalition.  When we stand together, we win.  The Democracy Initiative is just as serious about making filibuster reform a reality as Tom Udall has been about since he became a U.S. Senator:

New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, has been a leader in the efforts to reform the U.S. Senate, a move that should not be seen as partisan. Should easing the logjam of holds on bills and appointments help the Democratic majority right now, a rules change could assist Republicans in the future. In politics, no majority is permanent, after all. However, Udall and others — notably U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat — are right to keep pressing for substantive reform in how the contemplative Senate does its work. The problem facing the Senate is this: Obstructionists in the minority have essentially made it impossible to do business without a supermajority. To pass legislation, the Senate routinely needs 60 votes — the number that can overcome a filibuster — rather than a simple majority. With their reform, Udall and Merkley want any senator who puts a hold on a bill to have to get up and actually filibuster. That is, talk and talk and talk, without stopping, so that the whole world sees who is gumming up the works. Anonymous holds would stop, whether on legislation or appointments that require Senate confirmation. This seems like common sense. A senator who wants to make a stand should have to stand up and tell the country why. - Santa Fe New Mexican, 1/5/13
Udall, along with Merkley and Harkin, argue that this can be achieved with the use of the “constitutional option” which allows both chambers to create their own rules with a majority vote on the first day of the new Congress.  Udall & Merkley's deals with the silent filibuster by making the obstructionism more transparent:

“We have the power to change the Senate from being a graveyard for good ideas, to an institution that can respond effectively to the challenges facing our nation,” said Udall in a statement announcing the proposal. “Our proposal is simple, limited and fair. We make reasonable changes to nominations and conference committees and do away with the status quo of stealth and silent filibusters that prevents the Senate from getting its work done.” - New Mexico Telegram, 1/3/13
If a majority of the Senate votes for cloture, but not the 60 Senators required to invoke it – which means 41 Senators have voted to continue debate – then the majority leader can initiate a period of extended debate. This period ends, and cloture can be invoked by a majority, if at any point no Senator seeks to continue debating. This forces Senators who filibuster to actually speak on the floor, greatly increasing public accountability and requiring time and energy if the minority wants to use this tool to obstruct the Senate.

Here's a summary of rules reform package Udall, Merkley and Harkin are proposing:

It also includes eliminating the ability to filibuster motions to proceed, reducing post-cloture time on nominations to 2 hours except of Supreme Court justices and eliminating the ability to filibuster on motions to establish a conference committee.

Filibuster reform proved to be a winning campaign issue that helped Democrats increase their majority in the U.S. Senate, especially for Udall's newly-elected colleague, Senator Martin Heinrich (D. NM):

“Preserving the rights of the minority is important, but I think it’s too easy, if you don’t actually have to do a 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'-style filibuster, it’s too easy to be abused,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) after taking the oath of office to represent New Mexico. “I think the filibuster should be preserved but it should be a talking filibuster where you actually have to go to the floor and preserve the floor.” - The Hill, 1/4/13
Heinrich has also come out in support of Udall's "constitutional option".  Strong support for filibuster reform has grown greatly thanks to Udall's leadership and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D. NV) endorsement of Udall and Merkley's package:

Two years ago, Senators Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley and Tom Harkins mounted a campaign for rules reform. They succeeded in getting rid of the anonymous filibuster, an even more egregious practice. Now, after two additional years of accelerating legislative obstruction, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has finally called for ending the silent filibuster.

Reid's proposal would prevent the use of the filibuster to block the introduction of new measures. More important, it would require a senator to speak if he or she wished to halt a vote, instead of effortlessly indicating an intention to demand supermajority concurrence to continue any action. - History News Network, 1/6/13

Members of the House of Representatives are also helping push their Democratic colleagues in the Senate to pass filibuster reform by making the case that the current filibuster rules are hurting the democratic process:
Far more promising than Reid's "make them talk" effort is the lawsuit filed by the public advocacy group Common Cause. Contending quite correctly that the Senate's arcane rule is actually threatening our democratic process, their case highlights the stake that we American citizens have in the filibuster issue.

Suing on behalf of Representatives John Lewis, Michael Michaud, Hank Johnson, and Keith Ellison -- and three young people hurt by the use of the filibuster to block the Senate from passing the Dream Act in 2010 -- Common Cause must demonstrate that its case does not fall under "the political question doctrine," which posits that the judiciary can't interfere with Congress's procedures. Lawyers for Common Cause are arguing in the litigation that the Senate's rule-making powers are not absolute, particularly when they violate actual constitutional law, in this case the principle of majority rule. - History New Network, 1/6/13

But most importantly, filibuster reform has backing from the White House:

WASHINGTON -- Jumping squarely into the white-hot debate currently being waged in the Senate, the White House on Wednesday said it supports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's efforts to change the rules of the upper chamber.

"The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "They want to see progress, not partisan delay games. That hasn't changed, and the President supports Majority Leader Reid's efforts to reform the filibuster process."

"Over the past few years important pieces of legislation like the DREAM Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the American Jobs Act weren't even allowed to be debated, and judicial nominations and key members of the administration are routinely forced to wait months for an up-or-down vote," Pfeiffer added. "The American people deserve a United States Senate that puts them first, instead of partisan delay." - Huffington Post, 11/28/12

Udall claims to have the 51 votes needed to help pass filibuster reform:

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. - Huffington Post, 1/3/13

So far the only Democratic Senators that haven't publicly signed onto Udall's filibuster reform proposal 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.).  Newly elected Senators Mazie Hirono (D. HI) and Heidi Heitkamp (D. ND) also need to give the specifics on which filibuster reform proposals they support.  If any of these men are your Senator, please urge them to get behind Udall's call for real filibuster reform:

Udall has also been publicly calling out the bipartisan proposal from Senators John McCain (R. AZ) and Carl Levin (D. MI) to weaken filibuster reform:

Udall says it would do nothing to reduce the “paralysis” that the Senate currently suffers from.

Udall said in a statement to New Mexico Telegram that he still prefers his “Constitutional Option” to the proposal put forward by the group of Senators.

“I appreciate the work that Senators Levin, McCain, and others have done to craft this proposal. However, I am concerned that it doesn’t do enough to address the root causes of our gridlock. Their proposal does not end the paralysis, but merely shifts it to a different stage of the legislative process. As we begin a new Congress, the Constitutional Option provides a path for a simple majority of senators to enact real reforms, such as the talking filibuster.”

We have until January 22nd to make real filibuster reform a reality.  Organizations like the Teamsters and Sierra Club working together with other progressive advocacy groups are helping keep our base engaged and energized.  Great Senators like Tom Udall understand how important filibuster reform is to preserve our democratic process and to pass legislation that can help get our country and economy moving forward.  So lets stay strong and united and please keep putting the pressure on Senate Democrats to pass Udall, Merkley and Harkin's plan.  Sign the petition if you haven't yet:

And please contact your Senator directly here:

And while you're at it, thank Senator Udall for taking charge of this by contributing to his 2014 re-election campaign:

Originally posted to pdc on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 02:42 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, New Mexico Kossaks, and Climate Hawks.

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