Harkin Considering Filibuster Reform (UPDATED)

Dovetailing with what I posted yesterday, Bleeding Heartland reports that Iowa Senator Tom Harkin (D) is considering proposing filibuster reform.

Apparently Harkin proposed just such a bill back in 1995, when Democrats were in the minority.

Here are the details:

To keep the spirit of slowing down legislation, though, Harkin’s proposal back in 1995 would have kept the 60-vote rule for the first vote but lessening the number required in subsequent votes.

He said for instance if 60 senators could not agree to end debate, it would carry on for another week or so and then the number of votes required to end debate would drop by three. Harkin said it would carry on this way until it reached a simple majority of 51 votes.

“You could hold something up for maybe a month, but then, finally you’d come down to 51 votes and a majority would be able to pass,” Harkin said. “I may revive that. I pushed it very hard at one time and then things kind of got a little better.”

[Emphasis mine]

As Sen. Harkin told Ezra Klein:

The idea is to give some time for extended debate but eventually allow a majority to work its will. I do believe there’s some reason to have extended debate. If a group of senators filibusters a bill, you want to take their worries seriously. Make sure you’re not missing something. My proposal will do that. It says that on the first vote, you need 60. Then you have to wait two days, and on the third day, you need 57 votes. And then you need to wait two days, and on the third day, it’s 54 votes. And then you’d wait another two days, and on the third day, it would be 51 votes.


It’s just a bad situation. In the past, we had Republicans who wanted to do legislation so they were willing to work with you and make compromises. But that’s not what were facing right now.

[Emphasis mine]

Senate rules say that if a significant minority of Senators–41 or more–want to continue debating a measure, then debate must continue. The problem is that it allows that minority to delay debate indefinitely, effectively mandating a 60-vote supermajority for legislation to proceed.

Now, that’s not a problem when the minority uses the filibuster judiciously. But the Republican majority isn’t doing that–they’re filibustering anything of any substance of importance, in effect making the country ungovernable.

I would support something along the lines of the Harkin proposal–something that allows the minority to continue debate and postpone a final up or down vote, yet keeps them from postponing a final vote indefinitely. It preserves the rights of the minority by allowing them to extend debate but prevents that minority from effectively hijacking Senate proceedings.

Such reform  may not be feasible at the moment, but it’s about time the Senate started discussing how to revise their dysfunctional rules.

UPDATE: Oregon’s Jeff Merkley (D) also seems to be on board with some kind of filibuster reform:

The saying is that we’ve got the world’s greatest deliberative body, but the rules that were crafted to ensure deliberation have resulted in the obstruction of deliberation. Specifically, I’m the idea that it should be very difficult to close debate so every member has full opportunity to make their thoughts known before the chamber makes its decision has become, in practice, a procedural hurdle to make it difficult for any bill to move forward to a final vote. The fact that it applies to a motion to proceed, amendments, and passage, makes it possible to tie up the floor on anything for a week or two weeks.


When you understand the amount of ordinary business, the nominations and appropriations, that have to go through the floor, you realize the minority can make the chamber totally dysfunctional.

[Emphasis added]