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Merkley Wants Reid to Push Further on Filibuster Overhaul

One of the Senate’s leading filibuster reformers wants Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to go further after hearing of a rules change proposal the Nevada Democrat floated in a TV interview.

Reid signaled that he may move a package to the floor that would provide a way to reduce the 30 hours of debate required in the current rules after cloture has already been invoked — which is to say, after 60 senators have already endorsed moving forward. Such a move could effectively cut days off consideration of legislation that is poised to pass. It does not go as far as revision-minded senators, such as Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, would like to see.

“The post-cloture talking filibuster should be considered as a part of any final package. But, fundamentally, Senator Merkley believes that if 41 Senators vote for more debate, at least one should hold the floor and make his or her case in front of the American people,” Merkley spokesman Jamal Raad said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “If obstructing Senators are not willing to do that, we should move forward with a simple majority vote.”

Merkley has led the charge to change the Senate’s rules along with Tom Udall, D-N.M., with several proposals designed to make the chamber operate more efficiently.

The package (S Res 4) that Merkley and Udall have proposed along with Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin would establish a way to end Senate debate on legislation with a simple majority if no senator seeks recognition and talks on the floor to delay it from moving forward. That could more fundamentally change the way the Senate operates than having it easier to stop debate after a measure already has the support of 60 senators, as Reid suggested.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., also has proposed a “talking filibuster” that would make the actual Senate chamber look more like it did in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” where Jimmy Stewart’s character held the floor until he collapsed.

“A ‘talking filibuster’ post-cloture is a fine idea and Senator Merkley agrees we need to cut down post-cloture hours. In our package, we cut the 30 hours post-cloture on nominations to two hours. However, this approach does nothing to take on the core problem we face in the Senate: routine obstruction by the secret, silent filibuster,” Raad said.

“I think that we have to make sure that on a regular piece of legislation, if somebody wants to continue objecting to it after the cloture’s been invoked, they should have to stand and talk,” Reid said Friday during a wide-ranging interview with “Nevada Week in Review.”

“Senator Merkley will continue his discussions with Leader Reid, and continue pushing for a real talking filibuster in any final package put together,” Raad said.

Reid is trying to work out a compromise arrangement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that would avert a standoff on the floor as early as next week over the so-called nuclear, or constitutional, option that would allow Reid to move a rules change with a simple majority vote rather than clearing the two-thirds needed to break a filibuster of rules change resolutions in the existing rules. Republicans staunchly oppose the simple-majority rules change maneuver, but Merkley and some other Democrats want Reid to move forward that way if a more robust package cannot be achieved in dealings with the GOP.

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