This afternoon, as the pomp of the 113th Congress's opening wound down, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall -- the freshmen behind filibuster reform -- sat reporters down to tell them of coming victory.
"Reform of the rules will be front and center when we return," said Udall, referring to the work Congress would do after the president's inauguration. "I don't think you should infer anything into the fact that we've delayed the vote. Momentum is on our side -- my uncle Mo used to refer to the 'big mo.'"
That was an ominous reference -- Mo Udall spoke of momentum right before losing key Democratic primaries -- but Udall confidentally spoke of "51" votes for reform in the reformers' pockets. Merkley would only refer to "48" votes, and Democrats have balked at saying who was still holding out. (Hint: Mark Pryor, Carl Levin, Joe Donnelly.) But when someone pointed that out, and asked whether a rival, weak bipartisan reform would stunt the plan, Merkley joined the confidence parade.
"Most serious reforms of the rules occur because the leader has 51 votes behind him," he said. "That's where Harry Reid is now. When I refered to 48, I was only referring to public whip counts. But Harry can say 'I have 51 votes with me.' That's what allows him to negotiate."
The rule changes in question were handed out to reporters; both senators averred that the "talking filibuster" was the hardest to build a majority for.
- Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed: Clears a path to debate by making motions to proceed not subject to a filibuster, but providing two hours of debate.
- Require a Talking Filibuster: Forces Senators who filibuster to actually speak on the floor, greatly increasing public accountability and requiring time and energy if the minority wants to use this tool to obstruct the Senate.
- Expedite Nominations: Reduces post-cloture debate on nominations from 30 hours to 2 hours, except for Supreme Court Justices (for whom the current 30 hours would remain intact).
- Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Establish a Conference Committee: Reduces the steps to establish a conference committee from three motions to one, and limits debate the consolidated motion to 2 hours.