Santa Fe, NM – The 2011 version of the U-S Senate is set to convene on Wednesday, and on that first day, one of New Mexico's Senators will be leading an effort to reform the chamber's rules. Democrat Tom Udall has been working on a package of changes to Senate rules that he says will help put an end to partisan gridlock. The changes revolve around the filibuster, the procedure that requires 60 Senators to end debate on a measure and vote on it. Udall says in the past, the filibuster was used more for passionate opposition to an issue. But he says over the past two years, Republicans have used something called "secret holds", where a Senator threatens a filibuster but is never publicly identified.
"What we've turned it into is you file a filibuster and you go home", Udall says. "And so what we want to do is basically if 41 Senators vote for more debate, we go to more debate. And it's what I would call a talking filibuster. In the simplest terms, it's bringing a filibuster back to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. You stand up and you have to speak on the issue you really care about."
Many Senate Republicans have complained they've not been given the opportunity to offer amendments to legislation brought to the chamber by majority Democrats, which is one of the reasons for their use of the filibuster threat. Udall says he's been working with Republicans to assure them they'll have the right to bring amendments to bills. He says he's not sure there will be 51 votes in the Senate to pass the rule changes, but he adds the Democratic caucus has been unified on the issue, which he sees as a good sign.
(Note: a full interview with Senator Udall, conducted by NPR's Robert Siegel, will air just after 6pm Monday 1/3 on 89.9 KUNM)