What Lamar Alexander doesn’t understand about Senate reform

WHAT LAMAR ALEXANDER DOESN’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT SENATE REFORM…. As talks continue on how (and whether) to improve the way the Senate does business, it’s inevitable that reform efforts are going to generate some pushback. That’s fine, of course, since there are credible arguments raised by critics to consider.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, however, continues to rely on wildly unpersuasive arguments.

In a speech prepared for a Tuesday appearance at the Heritage Foundation, Mr. Alexander reiterated his position that Democrats would be making a mistake. “Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing Democrats want to do is cut off the right of the people they elected to make their voices heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate,” he said in his planned remarks.

This really doesn’t make any sense. Putting aside the misguided take on public opinion — does Alexander really think voters are fans of Senate obstructionist tactics? — there are no proposals under consideration that would silence Senate voices. Hell, the notion of eliminating the filibuster and allowing the Senate to operate by majority rule isn’t even on the table.

The main proposal being pushed by reform-minded Democrats has three main provisions: (1) prohibiting filibusters on motions to proceed, which prevent senators from even having a debate; (2) ending the practice of secret holds; and (3) forcing those filibustering legislation to actually stand on the floor and talk endlessly.

If Lamar Alexander believes implementing these changes “cut off” Senate members and prevent “their voices” from being heard, he’s deeply confused about the nature of the debate.

On a related note, many observers have been waiting anxiously for Jan. 5 (i.e., tomorrow), with the expectation that major decisions will be made about these reform efforts. It’s worth noting, then, that’s extremely unlikely the issue will be resolved this week.

Senate leaders, seeking more time for bipartisan talks aimed at avoiding a potentially disruptive showdown on the Senate floor, are preparing a tactic that would let negotiations continue while maintaining the ability of Democrats to press ahead with their changes if talks prove fruitless.

In essence, Democrats could put the Senate in recess at the conclusion of Wednesday’s mainly ceremonial proceedings to be highlighted by the swearing in of 13 new senators.

As a result, the Senate would technically still be in the same legislative day when lawmakers returned on Jan. 24, and the backers of the rules changes could proceed at that point if they were not satisfied.

Stay tuned.