Reid will postpone filibuster reform

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will postpone filibuster reform until later this month, giving him time to negotiate a deal with Republicans, say Democratic lawmakers and aides.

A group of liberal Democrats had been pushing Reid to trigger the so-called "nuclear option" on Thursday, the first day of the 113th Congress, to make it more difficult for the minority to stall legislation and nominees.

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A senior Democratic aide said Reid will instead recess the chamber at the end of Thursday’s proceedings to extend the legislative day until later this month.

This would preserve his ability to amend the Senate’s filibuster rules on the first legislative day of the 113th Congress, even if that reform would not come until late January.

A Democratic aide said Reid is hoping to negotiate a standing order or rules change to improve the chamber’s efficiency when it resumes work, likely on Jan. 22, after President Obama’s inauguration.

“I think the conversation is going to continue between [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell [(R-Ky.)] and Harry Reid about this. I think they’re going to see if there’s a way to reach a bipartisan agreement, they’re still talking,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).

“We’re going to preserve our rights, we’re going to stay in the first legislative day and deal with the rules when we get back after the inauguration,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a leading proponent of reform.

Reid and McConnell will use a bipartisan proposal crafted by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) as the basis of their talks.

Levin and McCain, the chairman and ranking Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively, have put forward a three-part reform of the filibuster rule.

Their proposal would make it easier for the majority leader to take up new business by empowering him to deny the minority the ability to filibuster motions to proceed. In exchange, the leader would have to guarantee the minority leader and a bill’s minority manager each the right to offer an amendment, even an amendment on non-germane business.

The leader would have the option of scheduling an immediate vote to end a filibuster of a motion to proceed if five additional senators from each caucus sign a cloture motion.

Additionally, the Levin-McCain plan would speed the process for bringing legislation to conference negotiations with the House. It would collapse the three motions currently needed to proceed to conference into one motion that could be voted on after two hours of debate.

Their proposal would also speed consideration of lower-level executive and judicial branch nominees. Motions to end debate on non-Cabinet-level officials and district court nominees could receive votes after two hours of debate.

Levin and McCain have proposed putting the new process in place through a standing order, which would need to be approved by three-fifths of the Senate and would sunset at the end of two years.

If Reid used the nuclear option, which proponents call the “Constitutional option,” he could change the Senate’s filibuster rules with a simple majority vote. But it’s a controversial tactic that has never been actually employed to change Senate rules. The threat of its use has motivated the minority party to broker compromises in the past.

Liberals say the Levin-McCain proposal is inadequate because it would not implement their highest-priority reform, the so-called talking filibuster.

Udall and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), the leading advocates for filibuster reform, say lawmakers who filibuster legislation should be required to actively hold the floor and debate. This would make it more arduous for senators who want to hold up business — they would have to organize teams to hold the floor for days or even weeks on end.

Udall said he would have to be convinced to support the Levin-McCain plan because it would not implement a talking filibuster rule, which he said is “the heart of the matter”
 
He said Reid may insist on it as part of any overhaul of Senate rules.
 
“The talking filibuster is still very much on the table,” Udall said.

—This report was originally published at 4:01 p.m. and last updated at 5:56 p.m.

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