By Ramsey Cox
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blamed Republicans for the "inoperative" Senate in a floor fight with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that lasted more than 40 minutes.
Reid on Wednesday affirmed that, if Democrats keep control of the Senate, he would change voting rules next year to make it harder for the minority to block bills through the filibuster.
“The filibuster was devised to help legislation get passed; now it’s being used to stop legislation,” Reid said. “We have to change things, because this is becoming inoperative.”
Reid's comment came in a discussion with McConnell, who asked Reid to confirm that his earlier pledge to stick with current Senate rules is now off the table.
“I was wrong,” Reid said. “It’s not easy to get up here and say you're wrong. … It takes 60 votes to move anything, and I think that’s wrong.”
McConnell pressed Reid to explain why the 60 votes needed to advance most bills would stop the Senate from passing a budget. Reid responded by saying a budget had already been passed.
McConnell pressed further, asking why Democrats haven’t taken up any appropriations bills. Reid blamed the House for not sticking to the spending levels agreed on.
“The House has reneged on the agreement,” Reid said. “The House is not serious about what they do … I wanted to get these done, but the House has made [doing so] impossible.”
McConnell said that was no excuse, because spending differences between the House and Senate appropriations bills are normally resolved in a conference committee.
“Who’s taking responsibility for the Senate?” McConnell said.
McConnell noted that Reid is running the upper chamber and said more committee input is needed.
"We don't have a rules problem, we have an attitude problem," McConnell said, adding that Reid simply doesn't want to work with both parties to pass bills. "It's hard, but that's the job."
Reid cited a study from Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution that blames Republicans for slowing the Senate's work. Reid has mentioned the study numerous times in recent months, but McConnell dismissed it.
"I actually know Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann," McConnell said. "They are ultra, ultra liberals. Their problem with the Senate is Democrats don't have 60 votes anymore."
Late in the debate, the two sniped at each other after McConnell said it is not the fault of the House that the Senate has failed to call up any 2013 appropriations bills this year. Reid said it's "obvious" why this work has not started.
"We have simply not been able to get to the appropriations bills because — " Reid started, but was then interrupted by McConnell, who asked, "Have you tried calling any of them up?"
"I don't think it calls for my being interrupted here," Reid shot back. "I have listened very patiently to all his name-calling."
McConnell said that when Republicans have opposed calling up a bill, it's because they know Democrats will not let them consider any GOP amendments.
"So the reaction on this side is, if the majority leader's not going to let us have amendments, if the only result of invoking cloture on a motion to proceed is that he fills up the tree and doesn't offer us any amendments, why would we want to do that?"
McConnell also criticized Reid for ignoring the committee process and allowing bills to come to the floor that are put forward by one office. As an example, he cited the bill now before the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow's (D-Mich.) Bring Jobs Home Act, which McConnell said was introduced a week ago and was called up for apparently political purposes.
In the meantime, he said, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved nine of 12 spending bills, but they are nowhere in sight.
"What are we doing here?" McConnell asked. "Is the Senate a messaging machine?"