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Ending Senate gridlock

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National Urban League Policy Institute Issue Brief
January 19, 2011

At Issue: Abuse of Senate rules in the 111th Congress has led this nation to an ominous imbalance of power between the House and Senate by turning our democratic (small “d”) process upside down. Today “majority” rule has been replaced by “minority” rule. We have reached a point where, because of abuse of the 60-votes needed to overcome a filibuster, a minority of 41 Senators can now control how the Senate proceeds with its legislative business and even determine what issues are allowed to come to a vote! This affects not only the Senate, but the country as a whole.

Currently, the Senate is governed by rules that allow secret holds on bills and judicial nominees, “pre-filibusters,” “actual filibusters,” and “post filibusters.” As a result, in the 111th Congress, the House passed over 400 bills that never saw the light of day in the Senate and were never debated.

Qualified judicial nominees have been delayed or blocked, leaving our judicial system with nearly one in nine federal judgeships vacant.

Our American Democracy Deserves Better: When the Senate returns from its two-week recess January 25, 2011, it is expected to vote on a package of rules changes that will hopefully reduce the gridlock and allow for true bipartisan debates and votes on the serious business of this country – jobs and the economy, a functioning judicial system, education reform, reauthorization of our workforce system, civil rights, and more. For the last two weeks, bipartisan negotiations have been ongoing in an effort to reach agreement on reforming the Senate rules.

The National Urban League supports key rules changes proposed by Senate Democrats Tom Udall (NM), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Tom Harkin (IA) such as:

– Eliminating the “pre-filibuster” by eliminating a senator’s ability to filibuster motions to bring legislation to the floor, known as motions to proceed. Senators could still filibuster the bill itself once brought to the Senate floor.

– Forcing Senators who object to legislation to hold the floor – that is, be physically present – through the traditional filibuster-style speeches.

– Eliminating the “secret holds” by prohibiting the practice of one Senator objecting, on behalf of another Senator who remains anonymous, to legislation and nominees.

– Cutting the time from 30 hours to two for debate on nominations that receive at least 60 votes. The 30-hour rule is tantamount to a “post-filibuster.”

– Protecting the rights of the minority to offer amendments.

What You Can Do: CALL your Senators and urge them to end the gridlock by changing the rules, such as the Udall-Merkley-Harkin proposals, so that the Senate can be about the nation’s business – not trying to find ways to obstruct it!

For additional information, contact Suzanne Bergeron, Senior Legislative Director, Workforce, Civil Rights and Social Services, National Urban League Policy Institute, at (202) 898-1604 ext. 20, or email her at

Senator Landrieu can be contacted at: (202) 224-5824


Written by demon53

January 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

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