Biden: Filibuster not ‘standard operating procedure' in Senate

In the chamber to swear in newly-elected Republican Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), whose upset victory last month denied Democrats a filibuster-proof, 60-seat majority, Biden said he regrets the divisive changes that have come as GOP leaders began demanding 60 votes on nearly all procedural matters.

But when asked about the prospects of filibuster reform, the vice president, who served in the Senate for 35 years, stopped just short of recommending such a move.

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He did note, however, that he was in the Senate when the threshold was last lowered, from 67 to 60 votes, in 1975.

“From my perspective, having served here, having been elected seven times, I’ve never seen a time when it’s become standard operating procedure,” Biden said of the filibuster. “And I really mean this unrelated to the fact that Barack and I are sitting down in the West Wing now. For any president in the future, having to move through anything he or she wants, requiring a supermajority is not a good way to do business.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is preparing legislation that would lower the filibuster threshold to a sliding number based on ongoing procedural votes, with the threshold eventually dropping to 51. Senate GOP leaders considered a similar approach during a debate over judicial nominees in 2005 but eventually dropped the idea.

Biden said he wasn’t recommending a particular approach.

“I don’t have the answer,” he said. “All I’m saying is, I hope that cooler heads start to prevail and people start to reflect more on what this means… Some of the issues we’re dealing with now are really philosophically very contentious. That’s OK. No one’s saying people should yield and throw over their principles. But there ought to be a way for us to be able to negotiate this very difficult time and incredible opportunity for the country.”                                                                              

He also twice told reporters that President Barack Obama plans to invite GOP legislators to the White House to discuss possible compromises on healthcare reform.

“The prospects are still good, but we’re going to talk to our Republican colleagues and the Republican leadership,” Biden said. “Look, the president meant what he said when he said in the State of the Union that he’s open to suggestions. Anything that meets the goals the president set out for healthcare. And I’m confident that the president is going to invite the Republican leadership to come down and sit with us and have a serious discussion like, ‘OK, guys, what do you want?’ “

Obama reached out to House Republicans last Friday, by attending a caucus meeting in Baltimore that was occasionally contentious but usually civil. He also attended a Senate Democratic caucus meeting on Wednesday at the Newseum in downtown D.C. He has not, however, reached out to Senate Republicans since attending a caucus lunch last winter — and Obama was critical of the Senate GOP conference in media interviews as recently as December.