S01E15 - The Merkley Proposal (Season Finale!)

cross-posted from Main Street Insider

Last week, in part one of our two-part series on filibuster reform, we examined the Constitutional Option to allow majority approval of rules changes. This week, in the 15th and final episode of Season 1,we look at the most prominent package of rules changes discussed to date. Roughly a month ago, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) circulated a "dear colleague" memo outlining a series of changes that are being strongly considered within current Democratic Caucus deliberations.

Enjoy this first season's finale. It's been a fun season for us and we'll be back in January with a whole slate of brand new bills and other policy proposals to summarize!

*Full disclosure: David Waldman, our Public Affairs Director, is an active advisor to the Fix the Senate Now coalition.

Senate Rules Reform and the 112th Congress
Part 2 of 2: The “Merkley Proposal”
Key Proponent: Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Released 11/16/2010
Click here to download this summary (pdf)

Status: Currently in discussion within the Senate Democratic Caucus, this proposal has emerged as the most prominent and feasible comprehensive rules reform measure. If the Democratic majority exercises the Constitutional Option on the first day of the 112th Congress, they will have an opportunity to reform the filibuster rules with simple majority support. The Democratic Caucus will have 53 members at the time, including Independent Sens. Lieberman and Sanders, so they can only afford to lose three members if no Republicans support the measure. It is currently unclear whether proponents will be able to garner majority support.

Purpose: The Senate has been traditionally known as the deliberative “cooling saucer” of the American government, where the minority right to filibuster can counteract the worst impulses of a majority. But now, in a time of great national distress, many view the filibuster as an enabler of mindless obstruction rather than a tool to promote debate and compromise. Indeed, the percentage of legislation affected by threatened or actual filibusters has risen from 8% in the 1960s to some 70% in the 110th Congress.

Introduced on November 16th in a letter to Senate colleagues, Senator Merkley's proposal is designed to accommodate those who believe the rules must be changed to limit obstruction, but do not support outright elimination of the right to filibuster.

Summary: The reform proposal contains a number of suggestions designed to decrease paralysis, increase deliberation and return the filibuster to its traditional role as conceptualized in the 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. It includes suggestions to:

1) Eliminate the ability to filibuster the following:

• Motions to proceed to debate;
• Legislative amendments;
• Appointment of conferees;

2) Shift the burden to the filibustering senators by requiring:

• A petition signed by a “substantial” number of senators to block a majority vote;
• A specific, gradually increasing number of filibustering senators to be present on the floor to keep debate open;
• Continuous debate during a filibuster. If no senator wants to speak at a given time, regular order is immediately restored;

3) Create an similar expedited process for nominations;

4) Establish a minority right to offer legislative amendments;

5) Decrease the partisan segregation of members.

Expected Supporters: Many Senate Democrats, Fix the Senate Now coalition, dozens of constitutional scholars, etc.

• Supporters believe filibuster reform to be crucial to meeting the nation's critical economic, energy/environmental, foreign policy and national security goals. While supporters are split on eliminating the right to filibuster entirely, they all favor provisions that “make them actually filibuster” and limit procedural delay on noncontroversial items of business.

Expected Opponents: Most Senate Republicans, movement conservatives, retiring Sen. Chris Dodd

• Some opponents recoil at the calls to upend longstanding practice in a legislative body primarily defined by its adherence to tradition, believing it is better to change the culture to inspire cooperation than to change the rules for short-term gain. However, others simply wish to preserve the ability to obstruct their political opponents' agenda in the 112th Congress.

Note: For the most part, concrete support and opposition has yet to fully materialize

There's more...

Encourage Progressive Leadership Open Thread

It's been almost a year since Election Day 2008, but some of our '08 champs could still use a little help.  Just sayin'.

As of September 30, 2009:

DemocratCash on HandLingering DebtAmount in the RedWhere to Contribute
Al Franken$242,128$450,859$208,731Contribute to Al
Jeff Merkley$137,221$271,589$134,368Contribute to Jeff

I'm not saying there aren't plenty of 2010 candidates that need our help.  (There are!  Please help!)  I'm just saying that helping our previous progressive winners to close their books and retire their debts could encourage other Democrats currently running to follow in more progressive footsteps, knowing we have their backs.

I'll leave you with a few reasons to be very, very proud of Senator Al Franken's first months as a U.S. Senator (and very, very motivated to help retire his campaign debt):

And a dash of Senator Merkley for good measure:

Consider this an open thread.

Oregon Senator-Elect Jeff Merkley Goes To Bat For Jim Martin

Fresh off his recent victory over Gordon Smith in Oregon's Senate race, Democrat Jeff Merkley is asking his supporters to pitch in and help Jim Martin defeat Republican Saxby Chambliss in Georgia's December 2nd U.S. Senate run-off.

In email sent out this afternoon, Merkley wrote, "We need to have Jim Martin in the Senate to work with President-elect Obama and me to fix our economy and make Washington work for working Americans."

"I urge each and every one of you to join me in supporting Jim Martin's campaign," the email read.

Merkley's email included an ask for $25, $50, or $100 to Jim's campaign so he can "join me and President-Elect Barack Obama in Washington in putting our nation back on track."

The Merkley email is the second one of its kind this week sent to assist Jim Martin in raising funds for his tight Senate race.

Thursday, Democratic strategist James Carville asked backers of the Georgia Democrat to donate at least $5 to help Martin meet his $250,000 goal [Source:  DemConWatch, "GA Senate: James Carville Makes Fundraising Pitch For Jim Martin", November 13, 2008].

There's more...

Road to 60: Merkley Makes Fundraising Pitch for Martin

Jeff Merkley, who last week defeated incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith in Oregon, has become the first newly elected Senator to use his campaign's email list to fundraise for Jim Martin in Georgia, a source involved in Democratic politics informs me. Here's a good chunk of the email, which I received from the Merkley campaign under the Senator-elect's name earlier this morning.

While the election is over in Oregon, it continues in Georgia. Jim Martin is locked in a tough runoff with Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss. We currently hold 57 seats in the U.S. Senate - just three shy of having enough votes to end the Republican obstructionism that has paralyzed the Senate over the past two years.  We need to have Jim Martin in the Senate to work with President-elect Obama and me to fix our economy and make Washington work for working Americans.

Help Jim Martin so he can join me in the U.S. Senate --  donate $25, $50, or $100 to his campaign right now.

Let me tell you a little more about Jim Martin: Jim is a Vietnam veteran who served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 18 years.  He has been a leader on the issue of health care and has paid particular attention to expanding access to health care for Georgia's children.  Jim Martin has never backed down from a tough fight and we need someone with his courage and compassion in the U.S. Senate.

I urge each and every one of you to join me in supporting Jim Martin's campaign.

If this is any indication of the type of Senator Merkley will be -- and I do believe it is -- then you can see why it was so important to us at MyDD to add him (as well as Martin) to the Road to 60 Act Blue page.

Merkley is a team-builder. I have seen this first-hand, with the then Oregon House Democratic leader helping his caucus pick up the majority for the first time in 16 years back in 2006. As a part of that effort, Merkley was more than willing to assist the clear underdog campaign I was working on that fall to unseat the then-House Majority Leader Wayne Scott, doing an event in the district and generally being helpful to the campaign.

Now, just a week and a half out from winning a close Senate election, Merkley is already putting his resources to bear to help his caucus and his party, fundraising for Martin in Georgia. Very impressive, indeed. If you, too, want to help out, head over to the Road to 60 page and make a contribution of your own to the cause.

There's more...

OR-Sen: Jeff Merkley The Projected Winner

Sarah Lane in the diaries brings the good news. The Oregonian has called the Senate race for Jeff Merkley:

Democrat Jeff Merkley has ousted Republican Gordon Smith from his U.S. Senate seat, The Oregonian projects.

Merkley, a five-term state lawmaker and former Habitat for Humanity director, took advantage of a surge of Democratic support to win a close, bitterly fought battle with Smith, who has served 12 years in Washington.

Neither candidate, however was willing to rule the race over until more votes are tallied.

"More good news," said Matt Canter, spokesman for Merkley, "but we'll just continue to watch the ballots come in and wait to claim victory."

Smith's campaign argued vigorously that the race isn't over. The projection is based on a mathematical analysis of the remaining 340,000 votes still being counted out of a total 1.8 million vote cast statewide.

Congratulations, Senator-elect Merkley! A worthy victor and a great addition to President-elect Obama's majority. (Saying "President-elect Obama never gets old, does it?)

There's more...


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