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The Senate is set for a key vote this afternoon. Democrats want to bring up one of President Obama's top priorities: a bill that would re-regulate Wall Street. Republicans have said they want some more bargaining before taking up the bill. That amounts to a filibuster, and it'll take 60 votes today to override it - one more than the 59 that Democrats control.
Filibusters have expanded dramatically in recent years, and a growing chorus of Democrats are saying it's time to reassess that practice. NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: To get an idea why Democrats say they're so frustrated with filibusters, consider what happened last Thursday on the Senate floor, when Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed bringing up the financial regulatory bill.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): I ask unanimous consent that at 3 p.m. Monday, April 26th, the Senate proceed to the consideration of calendar number 349S3217, a bill to promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency.
Unidentified Man (Senate Presiding Officer): Is there objection?
WELNA: That was the presiding officer. He asked if there was any objection because if just one Senator objects, the bill can't be considered unless 60 Senators vote to bring it up.
That one senator, in this case, was Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): Reserving the right to object, and I will object.
WELNA: McConnell said Republicans wanted more time to negotiate changes to the bill before it hit the floor. That's because once it does, Republicans wanting to amend it may have to muster 60 votes, since any Democrat can filibuster GOP amendments.
It used to be relatively rare that so-called motions to proceed, or to bring up a bill, were filibustered. Before Democrats became the majority in 2007, such filibusters occurred only about eight times a year. Since then, the Republican minority has nearly quadrupled the frequency of such filibusters, which is why New York Democrat Charles Schumer convened a meeting last week of the rules committee he chairs. It was the first of what Schumer said would be a series of hearings on what to do about the Senate filibuster.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (New York, Democrat): The threat of filibusters has become an almost daily fact of life in the Senate, influencing how we handle virtually everything debated on the Senate floor. The filibuster used to be the exception to the rule. In today's Senate, it's becoming a straitjacket.
WELNA: Schumer held the hearing at the urging of New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall. He's part of a group of freshmen and sophomore Democrats who've gotten fed up with the filibuster.
Senator TOM UDALL (Democrat, New Mexico): It is time again for reform. There are many great traditions in this body that should be kept and respected, but stubbornly clinging to ineffective and unproductive procedures should not be one of them.
WELNA: GOP leader McConnell was also at the hearing. His message on changing the filibuster: Don't do it.
Sen. MCCONNELL: The founders purposely crafted the Senate to be a deliberate, thoughtful body. A supermajority requirement to cut off the right to debate ensures that wise purpose. Eliminating it is a bad idea.
WELNA: And the filibuster is not the only venerable Senate institution in the crosshairs. Some Democrats are also pushing to get rid of so-called secret holds on scores of presidential nominees - a hold being the threat to filibuster. Missouri's Claire McCaskill says they're sending a letter to the Senate's two leaders.
Senator CLAIRE MCCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): We have said first, we will not do secret holds. We're out of the business of secret holds. We're not going to do them. And secondly, we want the Senate to pass a rule that prohibits them entirely. If you want to hold somebody, fine, but say who you are and why you're doing it.
WELNA: Changing the Senate's rules, though, takes 67 votes, and just 21 senators have signed McCaskill's letter.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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