Liberal activists and Democrats on Wednesday prodded supporters to push for changing the Senate’s filibuster rule, saying it’s the only way to ensure President Obama can move their agenda through a broken Congress.
Speaking at the final day of the America’s Future Now conference, AFL-CIO lawyer Laurence E. Gold urged the activists to take that message back to their groups: The Senate, until it is changed, is standing in the way of progress on gay rights, Wall Street reform and protecting the environment.
The solution, Mr. Gold and other speakers said, may be a proposal from Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, who also spoke at the session.
Mr. Udall has called for Senate Demorats to rewrite the traditional rules - including the filibuster - that govern the legislative process in the Senate. The changes could be implemented, Mr. Udall said, in January, when the new Congress is sworn in.
“Once these rules are changed, if the Republicans retake the Senate, we have to live with the results,” Mr. Gold said, but the current system, he said, is corrupting the process of representative democracy.
Mr. Gold and other speakers said the move would give President Obama and the Democrats, at the least, a two-year window to show Americans that progress can be made in Washington - an opportunity that would be worth the prospect of Republican retaliation down the road.
The Democrats expect to lose some of their 59 Senate seats this fall, but, barring an electoral disaster, should retain the 50 needed to rewrite the rules.
The proposal is rife with political pitfalls and would face an uphill battle among both Republicans and Democrats unwilling to do away with long-held practices designed to ensure the minority has a voice in what they consider the more “deliberative” chamber. Since 1975, the Senate has required 60 votes to end debate, a device known as cloture, and call a final simple-majority vote on legislation. From 1917 to 1975, a higher threshold vote of two-thirds majority was needed.
Wednesday’s sessions brought to a quiet close three days of frustration for the activists who converged on Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel for the annual gathering.
Much of the frustration over the lack of progress on several liberal issues was directed at President Obama and Washington Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was heckled by loud protesters when she addressed the gathering on Tuesday.