Reid vows changes to filibuster rules

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Saturday that Democrats will try to change Senate rules on the longstanding practice of filibusters. 

Reid said that while Democrats were still looking at options as to how they would change the filibuster, Republicans’ use of the rules to force a 60-vote majority on most items before the Senate meant that a change was needed.

“This Republican Senate has started abusing the rules, so we’re going to have to change it,” Reid told liberal bloggers assembled in Las Vegas for the “Netroots Nation” conference.

“We do not have a plan fully developed yet, but we’re looking at ways to change it,” Reid said. 

Frustration at the Senate rules and the frequent gridlock that Republicans have been able to force peppered Reid’s remarks to the bloggers. The top Senate Democrat defended his party’s work in the Senate the past year and a half, but acknowledged that they might have been able to have been more ambitious in the pace and scope of their legislative agenda if not for Republicans. 

“Suddenly, 60 is the new 51,” he said, noting the new standard for legislation. 

Senate rules allow individual members to filibuster legislation — in essence, continuing debate indefinitely — unless 60 votes can be found to move to a final vote. Democrats control 59 seats, meaning at least one Republican is needed to advance a bill. 

Reid noted that Democrats for a time enjoyed a 60-vote majority that should have allowed them to advance a number of priorities, but the majority leader argued that it was short-lived.

“Remember, we only had 60 votes for a matter of a few weeks,” he explained, noting the delay in swearing in Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) last August. “60 votes was a very fleeting time in history in this country. But we did a lot of time during that period.”

Still, a rules change would be difficult for Democrats to manage if they keep their majority after this year’s midterm elections, in which Republicans are expected to make gains. Senate rules require 67 votes just to change the rules, meaning that a number of GOP senators would have to sign on to an effort that would undercut one of their most useful tactics as a minority party.