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Senate Rules Committee Opens Hearings on the Filibuster

About a half-hour ago, the Senate Rules Committee opened their first hearing into the filibuster in as long as anyone can remember. The hearing is being broadcast live at the Rules Committee website.

Sarah Binder, the political science professor and Senate rules expert from George Washington University; Gregory Wawro, a political science professor from Columbia University; Stanley Bach, formerly of the Congressional Research Service; and former Senate parliamentarian Robert Dove will testify. The hearing examines the history of the filibuster, and is the first of what will be several hearings in this Congress about the filibuster and how best to reform Senate rules.

Committee Chair Chuck Schumer has said he wants to reform the minority’s ability to endlessly obstruct and delay, and committee member Tom Udall has vowed to raise a point of order at the beginning of the next Congress allowing for the Senate to create their own rules rather than carry them over from the last Congress. He believes that this “constitutional option” would only require 50 votes. Schumer, for his part, may be Majority Leader next year, and not only him but current Majority Leader Harry Reid and rival for the position should Reid lose re-election Dick Durbin have called for Senate rules reform. So something will happen next year, it’s mainly a question of what. And this hearing should give us the first insight into that process.

The Senate may also opt to use the budget reconciliation process to pass items on a majority vote this year. But if they want the ability to do something like that more than once a year and not tied up with budget-related items, they’re going to have to reform Senate rules, because Republicans are highly unlikely to make anything easier on them, especially with a bigger minority representation. And in remarks this morning, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated his firm objections to any change to the Senate rules, saying that the Senate was never meant to function like the House of Representatives. Suddenly he has a real affinity for minority rights.

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David Dayen

David Dayen