Senate starts new Congress with sharp debate over filibuster rules

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used his first opportunity to address the Senate of the 112th Congress to argue that some of the body’s rules that favor the minority party ought to be weakened. Reid's comments mark the start of what is expected to be a heated debate over whether the Senate's filibuster rules should be changed.

"Republicans have gratuitously abused the system and the filibuster especially," said Reid. "We need to make sure the Senate can operate in a way that allows the legislature to legislate."

With Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony complete, Democrats now posses a downsized majority of 53-47 in the Senate, including two independents who caucus with Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) replied to Reid in his first speech, and wasted no time in accusing Senate Democrats of attempting to bend the rules to favor their "vision that disregards the public in favor of the opinion of an elite few."

"One party should not be allowed to force its will on anyone else," said McConnell. "Thanks to the Senate, it rarely has."

Following the leader’s opening speeches, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) proposed a resolution that would allow the Senate to determine new rules at the beginning of each session of the Senate. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) quickly objected, and the Senate moved on to a general debate about the filibuster. Senate Democrats have made a series of proposals on how to change the filibuster — our colleague Alexander Bolton has a description here.

We also provide here the text of the Democrats' proposal.

Reid and McConnell also used their initial floor speeches to lay out their priorities for this year. Reid named jobs, energy, education and immigration, and McConnell mentioned the reduction of spending and debt, the shrinking of government, and job creation.