12:43 pm Nov. 15, 20122
After finally winning her first full six-year term, Kirsten Gillibrand is joining her colleagues in trying to change some longstanding rules in the U.S. Senate.
Gillibrand emailed her supporters this morning with a petition to reform the Senate's filibuster rules, weakening the ability of the Republican minority to block legislation.
"The recent transformation of the filibuster into a political weapon used for partisan aims is unacceptable," she wrote. "Our times, our challenges, even our opportunities, demand more of us."
The filibuster allows senators in the minority party to block a bill by endlessly debating it, and requires a super-majority of 60 votes to invoke "cloture," ending the debate. The mere threat of a filibuster has been used increasingly in recent years to stall legislation (and a number of judicial appointments) opposed by the minority.
The reform proposals would limit the amount of debate, and would require senators blocking a bill to conduct an old-fashioned filibuster, and speak on the Senate floor to prolong the debate.
"The filibuster has a role, absolutely, but it has to return to being a reasonable tool," Gillibrand wrote in her email to supporters. "That’s the way it was envisioned and we have the opportunity, right now, to get back to that ideal."
Gillibrand's email list proved to be a potent fund-raising tool in 2012, with her email appeals providing the bulk of the $1 million she raised for other candidates, while stocking her own coffers. It's not clear whether it can have the same effect on the parliamentary procedures of the Senate.
It's even less clear why Republicans, who will hold 45 seats in the Senate come January, would accede to filibuster changes, and the petition emailed by Gillibrand this morning includes three other senators, all Democrats, and one senator-elect, Elizabeth Warren.
Changes to the Senate rules generally require a two-thirds vote, and a similar proposal failed in 2011, though the Senate did vote to end secret holds. But the Democrats say they believe they could change the rules with the support of a simple majority.
The filibuster process has been reformed before. Before 1917, there was no means of ending debate, and then the process required a two-thirds majority until 1975, when it was reduced to three-fifths. The process isn't mandated in the Constitution, and the Senate is free to set its own parliamentary rules.
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