For the past two years, the Senate Republicans have shamelessly abused Senate rules -- including the filibuster -- for patently political reasons.
Sadly, the Senate Republicans' unprecedented obstructionism was met with complacency rather than conviction by most Senate Democrats.
That may be about to change.
A reform package was introduced by three Democratic senators who have championed the issue of Senate rules reform: Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Harkin of Iowa.
While the package doesn't eliminate the filibuster and otherwise falls short of the full reform we would like to see, it represents a step forward. And we need to make sure that the Senate leadership doesn't further water it down needlessly to appease the Republicans.
The filibuster is why health care reform didn't contain a public health care option similar to Medicare; it's why no meaningful climate legislation was passed; why even non-controversial judges were denied confirmation despite a crisis in the judiciary; and why even the bipartisan DREAM Act wasn't even brought to the floor.
With a new Congress comes a chance to change the rules via a simple majority vote. Sens. Udall, Merkley and Harkin have proposed a number of provisions to limit the ability of the Republicans to game the rules and bring the Senate to a grinding halt. Their proposal includes:
-- Making those who filibuster actually stay on the floor and talk, like Jimmy Stewart in the famous scene of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
-- Reducing the opportunities to filibuster
-- Expediting the nominations process for relatively uncontroversial nominees
-- Eliminating secret holds
They have also included a provision that guarantees the Republican minority the right to offer amendments, which avoids a situation the Republicans commonly used as an excuse for their filibusters.
But fake consternation from Republicans may cause the Democratic leadership to blink and push for an even more anemic set of reforms than the modest ones put forth by Sens. Udall, Merkley and Harkin. And some of the ever-fearful "moderate" Democrats in the Senate might also waver in the face of this blustering from the Republicans if they do not see strong public support for reform.
We need to send a loud message to Senate Majority Leader Reid and Sen. Schumer, who is leading negotiations with Republicans on this issue, that they can't water down Senate reform just to get some Republican votes.
Tell Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer to stand strong on filibuster reform in the Senate.