A bipartisan solution for the Senate (Sen. Mark Udall)

Last month, the Senate was scheduled to consider the National Defense Authorization Act, important legislation that authorizes funding for pay, benefits and equipment for our troops, as well as programs that are critical for our national security.  While Senators in both parties had legitimate concerns – both with provisions in the bill and with proposed amendments to it – we never got to the substance of anything in the legislation.  Instead, Senators successfully filibustered the motion to begin consideration of the bill.  As a result, Senators – and the American people – never had the benefit of an open debate on its substance.  If we can’t pass it later this year, it will be the first time in almost 50 years that we have failed to enact critical defense authorizing legislation.

While this was a particularly egregious example of the level and fervor of obstructionism in the Senate today, it is only one of many.  Also this past month, the Senate finally passed a bill to support small businesses by cutting taxes and encouraging them to create jobs – but it was agreed to only after several months of delay, again, because the Senate rules allow a few Senators to bring the body to a grinding halt.

Many lawmakers read with dismay an article by George Packer in The New Yorker, in which examples of gridlock and partisan obstruction were detailed.  Americans from both political parties have asked whether the rules of the Senate are working to help solve problems.  Some of the unhappiness has focused on the filibuster, and some of my colleagues have understandably sought to change or eliminate it.

While I share much of their frustration, I believe the dysfunction we’ve witnessed in the Senate is a two-way street.  We must be thoughtful about how we approach changes to the Senate rules.  We should protect the rights of the minority, and we shouldn’t prevent substantive debate.  But my experience in the Senate tells me that we would better serve the American people by taking some common-sense steps and closing technical loopholes so they can’t be used to unfairly hold up business for days at a time.  That’s the intent behind legislation I introduced this week, which makes reasonable, necessary changes to the Senate rules that, I believe, all Senators could agree to support, regardless of party.

My legislation is broken into six main provisions.  It would:

· Level the playing field between the majority and the minority on cloture by requiring a vote of three-fifths of the Senators who are present, rather than requiring 60 votes to pass cloture.

· Reduce the number of votes required to end debate on a single bill.

· Shorten the time frame required to invoke cloture.

· End the requirement that amendments be read in their entirety if they have been made available online 24 hours in advance.

· End the requirement that Senate committees seek the unanimous consent of the full Senate to meet.

· Provide a way to call up an amendment when a majority leader has taken steps to prevent the minority party from trying to amend a bill.

These are some common-sense rules changes that will help encourage true debate and bipartisan cooperation.  I still believe there is no problem that bipartisanship can’t solve.  With that in mind, I hope that my colleagues will join me in working together to improve Senate processes and procedures, and in doing so, bring about the bipartisan cooperation that the American people expect and deserve.