The League sent a letter to the U.S. Senate encouraging a change to Senate rules regarding debate, specifically, the rules related to cloture and filibuster procedures. The League calls upon the Senate to rise above partisanship and reform the Senate rules in ways that maintain the best traditions of the Senate while ensuring openness, accountability, decision-making capability and effective performance.
January 3, 2013
TO: Members of the U.S. Senate
FROM: Elisabeth MacNamara, President
RE: The Senate Rules
The League of Women Voters urges you to work with your Senate colleagues to reform the rules of the Senate. We believe this can and should be accomplished through consensus – a consensus that will preserve the underlying values of the current rules but that will end the abuses of recent decades
The Senate’s tradition of full debate on critical and complex national issues is important for our democracy. Quick and unconsidered action is often a mistake. At the same time, particular rules that have the effect of tying the Senate in procedural knots or that block the Senate from even debating a particular bill or subject are not consistent with this tradition and undermine the basic tenets of representative government.
While it may be possible for a simple majority to change the rules of the Senate at the beginning of a congressional session, the prospect of biennial rules changes on partisan votes would fundamentally change the role of the Senate. We share the deep concern about abuses that bring many to support this step. A better alternative would be for Senators from both political parties to agree on essential reforms and adopt them using current procedures.
But it is simply unacceptable in a democracy to continue the Senate’s recent practices, which allow a small minority of absent Senators to block any consideration of a bill or nomination and to obstruct and delay action after cloture is invoked.
Over the years, Senators of both major political parties have taken different positions on cloture and filibuster procedures, often reflecting their partisan stands on the underlying issues. The League of Women Voters urges Senators now to recognize that they will sometimes be in the majority and sometimes in the minority. The Senate rules should ensure fair procedures for both.
At its best, the Senate is unique in its ability to reconcile conflicting national interests and priorities through full and open debate that respects the contribution of each Senator. At its worst, the Senate wastes incredible amounts of time doing nothing, allows Senators to indulge their individual whims, and reinforces partisan rancor.
It is time to rise above partisanship and reform the Senate rules in ways that maintain the best traditions of the Senate while ensuring openness, accountability, decision-making capability and effective performance.