The Senate Rules Committee Wednesday held the latest in a series on the future of the filibuster, a day after a GOP filibuster stalled a defense authorization bill and a day before Republican filibuster could block a campaign finance disclosure bill.
The Senate's unique filibuster rules have gained attention lately due to an increase in failed cloture votes and Democrats' efforts to highlight what they call historic GOP obstruction.
Wednesday's Senate Rules Committee meeting was the fifth of six hearings it has held on the subject this year.
Democrats used the hearing to present proposals to reform Senate rules. While seen as unlikely to succeed, they have said the plan has the benefit on keeping a focus on the prevalence of procedural obstructions.
Democrats called the current rules a "broken" and "dysfunctional" system that allows the minority to use the filibuster to force a supermajority vote of 60 senators on legislation.
"The current abuse of the filibuster is like nothing I've seen before," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who presented the panel with a plan to change the filibuster rule. "As scholars have testified, the minority, including Democrats when they were in the minority, has abused the filibuster in recent years at a level without precedent in the history of this body."
Harkin has proposed a plan that would revise the number of votes needed for cloture. He has pushed the measure for 15 years, he said.
Under the first vote for cloture would still need 60 votes. If that fails, three more votes could occur over about eight days. On the last, a majority of 51 votes could invoke cloture and end debate.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., presented a proposal that would force the Senate to vote to adopt its rules at the beginning of each Congress, which could make it easier for senators to change the rules.
Committee Republicans defended current rules and described their use of procedural prerogatives as necessary to block bad legislation.
Majority Leader Reid has sidelined the GOP through procedural moves that limited their ability to propose amendments, a sore issue on the heels of the defense bill filibuster, Republicans argued.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in the face of the Democrats' agenda he is proud to call himself an "obstructionist."
"The rules aren't broken," he said. "The attitude of the majority is the problem."
Harkin argued that the traditional power of one senator to slow or stop legislation must be limited.
"For the good of the country, we have to give up a little of that power," he said.
Harkin acknowledged some Republican concerns were valid and asked the expert witnesses how his proposal could include protections for the minority party.
Rules Chairman Charles Schumer said both parties have failed. He promised another hearing to discuss the majority leader's procedural moves.