September 22, 2010

Udall Presents ‘Constitutional Option’ to Senate Rules Committee

Hearing was Fifth in a Series to Examine Use of the Filibuster

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) today presented his Constitutional Option proposal as a way to restore accountability to the Senate rules during the fifth in a series of hearings by the Rules Committee to examine the filibuster and other obstructionist tactics.

The hearing, titled "Legislative Proposals to Change Senate Procedures," featured testimony from Udall and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), as well as three experts on Senate parliamentary procedure.

"The Constitutional Option is our chance to fix rules that are being abused - rules that have encouraged obstruction like none ever seen before in this chamber," Udall testified. "... So in January, on the first day of the new Congress, we should have a thorough and candid debate about our rules. We should discuss options for amending the rules, and after we identify solutions that will allow the body to function as our founders intended - and a majority decides that we have debated enough - we should vote on our rules."

In offering his Constitutional Option proposal, Udall argues that the current practice of robbing the Senate of its Constitutional right to adopt its rules of procedure by a simple majority at the beginning of each Congress has made effective legislating nearly impossible.

Since 1959, the Senate rules have included language mandating that they continue from one Congress to the next, unless modified in accordance with the rules. However, Senate Rule XXII requires the approval of "two-thirds of the senators present and voting" in order to limit debate on a change to the rules. This provision, which effectively prevents a majority of the Senate from ever amending its rules, directly conflicts with the Constitution's guarantee that "each House may determine the Rules of its proceedings."