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Senator Tom Udall on Filibuster Reform

Crossposted on Tikkun Daily By Lauren Reichelt Last night, Jon Stewart snagged an exclusive interview with President Barack Obama on filibuster reform which the President supports. A few weeks ago, I visited Washington and dropped in on my New Mexico Congressional delegation. Senator Tom Udall shared his thoughts on The Constitutional Option, a rules change he is proposing at the beginning of the next Congress to reform filibuster abuse. My exclusive video interview of Senator Udall on filibuster and health care reform is posted below. President Obama's high profile interview last night on filibuster reform is a wonderful sign for liberals. First of all, Jon Stewart caters to a young audience. He is explaining to them the details of the legislative process and the actions they can take to implement meaningful change prior to collection of their first social security checks. Change will NOT happen in this nation without the enthusiastic, passionate participation of our youngest voters. Secondly, President Obama is prioritizing filibuster reform because he is confident about keeping the Senate in Democratic hands. Early voting trends are not living up to pollsters predictions about "likely voters." While Democratic turn-out is so far not what it was in 2008 when the Democrats absolutely trampled the Republicans, it is well above 2006 levels and is a likely indicator that the utter route that has been repeatedly predicted by the mainstream media is not in America's cards. It is quite possible that Republicans will retake the House but is by no means a fait accompli. It is highly unlikely that they will take the Senate. Even more importantly, the Democrats who will suffer most horribly at the polls this November are the Blue Dogs: little yappy mutts that have nipped consistently at the heels of every important important piece of legislation until they've managed to drag out a chunk of its bowels. The Democratic caucus in both houses will shine with the deep pristine blueness of the winter New Mexico sky. The Republican caucus will likely be divided between Tea Party Republicans who wear Nazi uniforms for fun, tout the wonders of East German social policy, and disagree with the first amendment in the Bill of rights, and Rovian Corporate brownnosersshirts who want to eliminate all regulations, give tax windfalls to the wealthiest Americans and prop up the stock market with the social security trust fund. I'm not saying that a Republican House will not be a problem if it comes to pass. They will invent an endless stream of scandal to investigate. Every federal official and useful non-profit organization will be subject to doctored video "exposes" purportedly revealing their true nature as pimps, whores, murderers, and masturbating child molesters. Acorn and that unfortunate USDA official will have plenty of company. Tea Party Republican House members will use their bully pulpit to promote violence against gays, people of color, Muslims, physicians who provide reproductive health services to women and (for that matter) women. The bar for victory is actually fairly low, thanks to the perpetual MSM drumbeat about the coming apocalypse. All Dems have to do to win big is not to lose too badly. If they lose the House, it will be perceived as breaking even. America will still be moving towards reform, albeit cautiously. If they lose seats but keep their majority in both houses, it will be an amazing come-from-behind rout presaging a mandate for continued reform. Everything depends on youth and minority turn-out in this mid-term election. Let's hope that the deluge of advertising painting Democrats as panderers to scary, illegal, brown-tinted criminals helps to energize people who believe in the diverse American multi-cultural dream to show up at the polls. In the meantime, it is appropriate to begin thinking about governing in an environment where Dems are bluer but less populous. And to do that, we need what Senator Tom Udall has called "The Constitutional Option." The videos and transcripts of my exclusive interview with Senator Udall on this topic follow below. Senator Udall on The Constitutional Option, Part 1 TFLS: And so my question for you today is, I want you to tell me what the Constitutional Option is and for the folks who will be listening, a lot of them are people who really care about health care reform. So if we had a Constitutional Option, how might that bill look different and how could it be different and how could it be different in the future. Senator Udall: Sure. The first thing for people to really understand about the Constitutional Option is that people are frustrated with the rules of the Senate and I don't blame them. The reason they're frustrated is because when we campaigned and when President Obama campaigned, we were gonna do all these great things, make these great changes, move the nation forward, and that's not happening as quickly as we would want it to happen. So that's a critical issue -- that we're not getting the change that people want. And so what the Constitutional Option is about is doing rules reform in the Senate at the beginning of a Congress and the crucial thing is that at the beginning of Congress you can set rules with 51 Senators. You can end the debate and you can adopt new rules. Now is the time for rules reform. Now the background for this is very important because three vice presidents have already ruled that at the beginning of a Congress, you can change the rules with 51 votes. Also there is a very strong constitutional principal and that constitutional principal is one legislature cannot bind a subsequent legislature. What we're talking about there - let's use health care reform as your example - if we had passed health care reform and put a provision in the bill that said the next Congress is going to need seventy-five votes to change this proposal, that would be unconstitutional. And so essentially what's happened is that we are bound by a previous Senate. The last Senate to change the rules in this area was in 1975. Ninety-eight members of the Senate have never voted for rules change because we've been bound by that previous action. So that's where we are. We've been trying to get filibuster reform. There's been a lot of press coverage of it. The New Yorker has done a piece about authored by George Packer. There's a lot of information out there about how the Senate's broken and what are the ways we need fix it. I'm leading out on this rules reform and the Constitutional Option Part 2: The Constitutional Option Would Have Enabled a Public Option Senator Udall: I believe, Lauren, that every single one of our citizens should have health care. And they should have good, quality health care in their local communities. And so that's why, when we brought up the health care bill, there was a big fight over what was called the public option. And what the public option was all about was setting up enough competition so that we could see which was the best way to move. Do we want a non-profit pursuing health care? Or do we want insurance companies pursuing health care? And that was the big fight we had on the Senate floor. I was obviously for having a public option and moving in that direction. If we were able to refine the rules and reform the rules, I think we would be getting closer to a public option than the bill we passed. I would still say the bill we passed had some important provisions. You know, we bring 30 million new people into the system. Those are the estimates. We take care of pre-existing conditions, so people can't be barred because of pre-existing conditions. And as of today, if you're a young person and you can't get insurance out of the market, up to the age of 26 you can stay on your parents' policy. That's a big thing for people to be able to do. And there are going to be insurance exchanges, more competition and trying to get cost control in the future, all of those kind of things. But the real issue here is the Senate should be producing on the change the American people want. And the Senate's broken now, and so I'm trying to lead out on reform. TFLS: And so how does that look? I guess you can't really know if you have the votes if you don't know who's in the Senate but-- Senator Udall: Well, we have an election so a third of the new Senators will be coming in. A couple of things we know. First of all, Harry Reid has said, if he returns - and I think he's going to return - he thinks there should be rules reform, and he's given two great examples. These are sports examples, but he's said, you know, when they had the spitball, they tolerated it for awhile, but then the ball got so soggy it was dangerous, and they banned the spitball. In basketball, when they had the procedure of players being in the four corners of the court and just tossing the ball around and not trying to get a basket and wasting time? Well, they created the four corner rule and they banned that kind of activity. And [Reid] said, "That's abuse." When you have abuse - and that's what we have now - abuse of the rules by Mitch McConnell and his team. So what we're going to do is make that clear to the American people and move with the Constitutional Option to change the rules so that the majority can govern. But we're not going to deny the minority the right to make their points and be heard. TFLS: Okay! Thank you! Senator Udall: Is that good? Did I hit it on the head? Crossposted at Blogistan Polytechnic Institut For more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s email digest orvisit us online.