Feinstein on fixing the filibuster…

The U.S. Senate has work to do in its post-election, lame duck session–in particular, on the broad range of issues around the tax breaks and cuts that are triggered on January 1 or soon afterwards without Congressional action. Health Access wil be watching that closely, since these budget issues are inextricably ties with key health programs, especially Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act.

But one of the first issues in the new term of the Senate is what are the rules by which the Senate works–in particular if they adopt some fixes to help prevent abuse of the filibuster.

The Congressional newspaper The Hill says that such reform–which can be made by a majority of 50 votes if done at the beginning of the session–is within a few votes of passing, but that a handful of Democratic Senators are reluctant, including California Senator Feinstein.

Given how much of the Senate’s business (including health policy) is impacted by the filibuster, health advocates and others should follow this closely. Here’s the relevant clip:

Democrats will control 55 seats at the start of the 113th Congress. They can afford to lose only five votes if they hope to use the constitutional option to limit filibusters.

Vice President Biden, who also serves as president of the Senate, could break a tie vote.
President Obama could be needed to step in to muster Democratic votes. His administration endorsed reform on Wednesday.

“The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “They want to see progress, not partisan delay games. That hasn’t changed, and the President supports Majority Leader Reid’s efforts to reform the filibuster process.”

The three most reluctant Democrats are Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and Carl Levin (Mich.)

“I think that’s a mistake at this time but I’ll listen to arguments,” said Feinstein, when asked about the prospect of using the constitutional option to change filibuster rules.

Feinstein said she could support the more modest step of eliminating the ability to filibuster motions to proceed to new business. Changing the rules to make it more difficult to block votes on bills’ final passage would be bigger step.

Feinstein is not certain whether less-ambitious reforms could be accomplished under regular order, which would require 67 votes and at least 12 Republicans to sign on to reform.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.