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The New Mexican: Udall pushes for reform of filibuster

As he heads into his fifth year in the U.S. Senate this January, New Mexico’s Tom Udall isn’t giving up hope that the chamber will reform what he says is a procedural roadblock holding back job growth and economic development across the country.

Udall, a Democrat, in recent years has co-sponsored proposals to rein in the filibuster, a maneuver which he and other critics say has gotten out of control and bogged down far too many important bills, contributing to the gridlock in Washington, D.C., that has riled many voters.

“Everything impacting New Mexico has been hit,” he said in an interview. “All the money that comes to New Mexico is handled through the appropriations process and that has been short-circuited by the filibusters.”

Filibusters have changed from days past when senators in the minority, in a last-ditch ploy to prevent being overrun on a major national issue, halted action on a bill by engaging in seemingly endless speeches on wide-ranging and often unrelated topics. These days, senators seeking to bottleneck a bill or a nomination can indicate their intention to trigger a requirement for a 60-vote supermajority on practically any issue and don’t have to appear on the floor and speak on and on. That’s a big change for the Senate, and one Udall says isn’t for the better and has become far too common.

During the 1950s, when Lyndon Johnson was majority leader, he faced just one filibuster, Udall said. In his six years as a leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has faced 386, Udall said.

Since the Nov. 6 election, which saw the election of several new senators who have publicly backed filibuster reform, Reid has pledged to pursue rule changes that would reduce the minority party’s ability to obstruct legislation.

Udall says the Senate ought to “shift the burden of the filibuster to those who are delaying” debate on a bill’s merits.

“If you want to filibuster, you have to come to the floor and stand and talk,” he said. “You can’t just go home and eat dinner … You can’t just stay at home and not return to Washington, and that’s what they’ve been doing on these filibusters.”

The proposal, for which Udall hopes to help line up at least 51 votes, wouldn’t do away with filibusters completely. There isn’t support for that, he said.

Instead, the proposal calls for eliminating the filibuster on a motion to proceed on a bill. Senators still could debate for up to two hours.

“In the Senate you can’t even get on to the subject of the legislation because you face a filibuster,” he said. “There has been an abuse of rules … we need to change the way we do business to solve the problems which face us.”

The proposal also would limit filibusters on motions to send a bill to a conference committee, where members of the Senate and House try to iron out differences on legislation. It would maintain the ability to filibuster on amendments and bills as long as senators go to the floor and talk during the filibuster.