By Alexander Bolton - 11/30/12 02:42 AM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Spending fight shifts from Zika to Flint Black Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP MORE (D-Nev.) could be short on votes he needs to force changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules, as nine Democratic senators sit on the fence about the proposed reforms.
In addition, Sen.-elect Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyDem presses Congress to pass veteran suicide measure Senate Democrats block defense funding bill for third time Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? MORE (D-Ind.) did not commit during the campaign to reforming the filibuster rules, which brings the total number of undecided Democrats who will vote on the issue next year to 10.
That means Reid might be only one or two votes short of the 50 he needs to trigger the change, which Republicans call the nuclear option.
“What this tells me is that we’re very close to 51,” said Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallTensions rise over judicial nominees Dem senator wants to change nomination rules amid Garland fight Dem senators back Navajo lawsuit against EPA MORE (D-N.M.), who has been a leading advocate of using the constitutional option to limit the powers of the minority to use dilatory tactics.
Udall noted that Democratic leaders have a month to lobby their undecided colleagues before the start of the new Congress, and that Democrats have yet to hold a caucus meeting on the subject since the election.
Democrats will control 55 seats at the start of the 113th Congress. They can afford to lose only five votes if they hope to use the constitutional option to limit filibusters.
Vice President Biden, who also serves as president of the Senate, could break a tie vote.
President Obama could be needed to step in to muster Democratic votes. His administration endorsed reform on Wednesday.
"The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "They want to see progress, not partisan delay games. That hasn't changed, and the President supports Majority Leader Reid's efforts to reform the filibuster process."
The three most reluctant Democrats are Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinThis week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Election hacks, Yahoo breach in the spotlight Overnight Tech: Pressure builds ahead of TV box vote | Intel Dems warn about Russian election hacks | Spending bill doesn't include internet measure MORE (Calif.), Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (Ark.), and Carl LevinCarl LevinThe Fed and a return to banking simplicity What Our presidential candidates can learn from Elmo Zumwalt Will there be a 50-50 Senate next year? MORE (Mich.)
“I think that’s a mistake at this time but I’ll listen to arguments,” said Feinstein, when asked about the prospect of using the constitutional option to change filibuster rules.
Feinstein said she could support the more modest step of eliminating the ability to filibuster motions to proceed to new business. Changing the rules to make it more difficult to block votes on bills’ final passage would be bigger step.
Feinstein is not certain whether less-ambitious reforms could be accomplished under regular order, which would require 67 votes and at least 12 Republicans to sign on to reform.
Pryor voted against a package of filibuster reforms at the start of 2011. He expressed reservations about implementing them through a simple majority vote that would break from Senate tradition.
“I’m very reluctant to support it as a 51-vote threshold,” he said. “My preference would be to not change the rules and just have the internal discipline we need to conduct the nation’s business like we should.”
But he acknowledged it might not be realistic to rely on the good nature of his colleagues to solve Senate gridlock. He said he would study the issue.
Levin said he does not want to use the constitutional option, which Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThis week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Funding fight dominates Congress Week ahead in tech: Key test for FCC's TV-box plan MORE (Ky.) calls “breaking the rules to change the rules.”
“I am very leery about changes to rules, except by the use of the rules,” Levin told The New York Times, “and the rules require two-thirds of votes to change the rules. I prefer not to use a mechanism which I believe is dubious.”
Two other senior Democrats, Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusChina moves to lift ban on US beef Overnight Healthcare: Zika fight stalls government funding talks | Census finds big drop in uninsured | Mental health bill faces wait Glover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft MORE (Mont.) and Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Senate Dems call for investigation into Wells Fargo's wage practices Week ahead: Negotiators near deal on defense bill MORE (R.I.), have yet to be persuaded.
“I’m for talking to my Democratic colleagues and the leader about it. We’ll see,” said Baucus.
“I’m going to work my way through it,” said Reed. “It’s all part of the idea of how you effect change.
“I’m looking at everything,” he said.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the Senate’s most senior member, said he could support eliminating the filibuster on motions to proceed to bills and nominees but stopped short of endorsing the so-called talking filibuster. The talking-filibuster reform would require lawmakers to actively debate and hold the Senate floor to stall legislation.
“It is unconscionable to use a filibuster on a motion to proceed,” Inouye said in a statement. “For example, the Judiciary Committee unanimously approves judges, yet those nominations come to the floor and we have people using a filibuster. Once the filibuster is finished, we vote almost unanimously to approve the nomination. Now what kind of playground game is that?
“I am studying, very carefully, the proposals being suggested by my colleagues," he said.
Democratic lawmakers said they would discuss filibuster reform at a Democratic policy lunch next week.
Reid and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerThis week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Saudis hire lobbyists amid 9/11 fight Consumer bureau remains partisan target after Wells Fargo settlement MORE (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, have been lobbying colleagues behind the scenes to support the constitutional option, lawmakers said.
Schumer, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, will hold a hearing on filibuster reform later this month, sources said.
Sens. John KerryJohn KerryJudd Gregg: Debate prep and being Al Gore Time for Action on Bahrain When wise men attack: Why Gates is wrong about Clinton, Libya MORE (D-Mass.) and Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.), who are both serving in their fifth terms, say they are undecided but are leaning toward triggering the constitutional option.
“I’ve told them that I want to check out with a couple of things with respect to it so I’m not locked in yet but I’m leaning very strongly in that direction,” Kerry said of a package of reforms sponsored by Udall and Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Wells CEO Stumpf resigns from Fed advisory panel Senate Dems call for investigation into Wells Fargo's wage practices MORE (D) of Oregon.
Rockefeller said he “might” support the constitutional option.
“There’s more might than might not. We’ll see how things go. We’ve got to do something different,” he said.
Rockefeller said “nothing” much gets done in the Senate these days and “I’m for radical over nothing.”
Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonThis week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Key court date for climate rule; Fight over Flint aid GOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems MORE (D-Fla.) panned the proposal to force rules changes by simple majority vote in an interview with The New York Times earlier in this week.
“I don’t like the nuclear option,” he said. “I reserve the right to decide later, but instinctively I don’t like it. It’s avoiding the rules.”
But Nelson said Thursday that he would ultimately follow Reid’s lead.
“My mind’s open,” he said. “I’m supporting Harry Reid.”
Udall, Merkley and Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (D-Iowa) proposed a package of reforms two years ago that would have eliminated filibusters on motions to proceed to new business. It would have also required senators wanting to hold up legislation or nominees to hold the floor and debate, and shortened to two hours the time that must elapse after a filibuster on a nominee had been cut off. It failed by a vote of 44 to 51 after Baucus, Pryor and Reed voted no. Feinstein, Kerry and Inouye did not vote.