Almost three weeks ago, New Mexico's freshman Democrat in the US Senate, Tom Udall, was set to change the rules of the Senate--what Udall described, in a January interview with SFR, as "a broken institution" plagued by "unprecedented delay." Case in point: Udall's proposal to change that has yet to be heard.
Over the past year, there's been plenty of punditry on the dysfunction rampant in America's formerly-great deliberative body. (Seminal work: George Packer's New Yorker piece, "The Empty Chamber.")
Udall's desire to follow in the footsteps of 1950s New Mexico Sen. Clinton Anderson, who invoked the Senate rule-change tactic called the Constitutional Option (known among its detractors as the "nuclear option") to push for civil rights legislation, has won him national media attention. But it hasn't done much for the rules--at least, not yet.
Here's the latest, via a floorcast memo from the Senate's Republican Policy Committee (bold text is SFR's):
Negotiations continue with respect to Senator Udall’s (NM) proposal to alter the Senate rules to allow for future rules changes with a simple majority vote. It is anticipated that there will be debate on the floor this week on this subject, but because of the ongoing discussion to reach an agreement no vote to alter the rules is scheduled at this time.
Today, Sam Stein of the Huffington Post reports that the Dems on Capitol Hill will likely continue high-level discussion on competing rule-change proposals during a caucus meeting tomorrow:
In the past few days and weeks, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and ranking Republican Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) have held talks on some of those measures. The result is less ambitious than the initial proposal, top Senate aides say, but more likely to attract GOP support.
What the leadership will likely take from Udall's reform package, released earlier this month jointly with Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, according to Stein: banning secret holds (a method of halting a nomination or proceeding anonymously) and limiting the majority leader's ability to "fill the tree," or block the opposite party from adding amendments to a bill by filling it up with the majority's own.
But Udall's proposal to change the rules by invoking the constitutional option--essentially, approving new Senate rules with only 51 votes because the Constitution doesn't specify that you need more--may not fly.
Here's Stein again:
The Udall-Merkley approach, said one former Senate aide following the talks, was more or less dead because "the votes aren't there" for doing something via the constitutional option. And since that means Democrats need 14 Republican votes, the party was all but assured to settle on the low-hanging fruit. "[There are Democrats] who think that in the long run this would be harmful to the body and to themselves should they be in the minority themselves in two years," the former Senate aide said.
We'll find out tomorrow. Unless, of course, there's more unprecedented delay.