Senate Should End Its Holiday, Common Cause Says

Watchdog Group Renews Call for Filibuster Reform

Eight years to the week after a “Gang of 14” senators joined forces to shake up the U.S Senate and put it to work, obstructionists appear once again to be firmly in charge in Congress’ upper house, Common Cause said today.

“Congress is about to leave Washington for its Memorial Day vacation,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs. “But as far as most Americans are concerned, the Senate has been on vacation since January, essentially paralyzed by a group of senators who’ve exploited the rules to block votes on important legislation and nominations that have been pending for months.

“As the rest of us contemplate our summer breaks, it’s time for the Senate to end its holiday. And that starts with action to amend the rules so that the Senate operates as our founders intended — with majority rule and open debate.”

Hobert Flynn said that despite a leadership agreement in January that was supposed to limit the use of filibusters, which allow just 41 of the 100 senators to block action, the mere threat of a filibuster was sufficient to stop gun reform legislation supported by about 90 percent of Americans.

Filibusters and threatened filibusters also continue to be used to stop or delay action on President Obama’s nominees for key administrative jobs and federal judgeships. The New York Times reports that President Obama’s nominees for seats on federal courts of appeals have waited an average of nearly five months after being cleared in committee for a vote on the Senate floor. That’s four times longer than the average wait for nominees submitted by former President George W. Bush. For Obama’s nominees to federal district courts, the average wait time has been 102 days, compared with 35 days for Bush’s choices, the Times said.

Hobert Flynn noted that eight years ago this week, a bipartisan group of 14 senators reached an agreement designed to limit filibusters on judicial nominations to “extraordinary circumstances.” “hat deal helped for awhile,” she said, but the frequency of filibusters increased dramatically after Democrats gained a Senate majority in 2007.

“The current Republican leadership has adopted routine use of the filibuster as an operating principle, making a mockery of the ‘Gang of 14’ deal and a new ‘compromise’ in January that was supposed to get the Senate back on track,” Hobert Flynn said. “We call on senators to revisit and change their rules so that legislation can pass and nominees can be confirmed with 51 votes, a simple majority.

“In the meantime, Common Cause again invites senators interested in fixing the filibuster to join in our lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the filibuster rule and its 60-vote requirement for Senate action,” Hobert Flynn said. That case, also filed last May, is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.