Reid vows to seek changes to filibuster


After hearing growing frustration within his party, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is promising to pursue changes to the filibuster.

Reid (D-Nev.) met with nearly 20 freshman and sophomore Democratic senators Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to respond to Republican use of the rule to stall President Barack Obama’s agenda.

Reid told the lawmakers that Democratic leaders would review proposed changes to Senate rules and reform the filibuster rule at the beginning of the 112th Congress. He also met with liberal bloggers earlier in the day and pledged to make changes.

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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the class of 2008, said lawmakers need to work on filibuster reform “until we get it done.”

 “Unfortunately, the current ability of one senator to hold up progress in so many areas is not conducive to addressing the challenges the country faces,” Shaheen said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), when told of Reid’s pledge, said, “We’ll take a look at it.” 

The last straw for many Democrats came two weeks ago when Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) blocked a short-term extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA healthcare subsidies. 

Bunning’s filibuster sparked outrage because it affected thousands without work during one of the worst recessions in decades and because the bill he blocked was considered uncontroversial. 

 Earlier in the day, during a meeting with liberal bloggers, Reid promised to pursue filibuster reform.

 “The filibuster has been abused. I believe that the Senate should be different than the House and will continue to be different than the House,” Reid told the Huffington Post and other outlets. “But we’re going to take a look at the filibuster.

 “Next Congress, we’re going to take a look at it,” Reid added. “We are likely to have to make some changes in it, because the Republicans have abused that just like the spitball was abused in baseball and the four-corner offense was abused in basketball.”

 His decision to review the minority’s most powerful weapon comes after Reid dismissed such efforts earlier this year.

 “It takes 67 votes, and that, kind of, answers the question,” Reid told reporters in February.

 Reid’s pivot on the issue, however, indicates that he is now willing to employ the so-called constitutional option — which critics call the nuclear option — to adopt new rules at the beginning of 2011 with only a simple majority vote.

 Democratic aides who have studied the issue say they are not aware of any example in the past 50 years when the Senate adopted new rules by a majority vote.

 Reid appears to have changed his stance on the issue in response to pressure from the junior lawmakers who make up about a third of the Senate Democratic Conference.

 “I think the Senate needs to operate more fairly and efficiently than it does today,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), a Democrat elected in 2006.

 “We’ve had frequent discussions between our two classes as to ways we think we can add to traditions of the Senate and make sure we get our work done,” said Cardin.

 A large number of these lawmakers served in the House, where chamber rules make it easy for the majority to ram bills through past the minority’s objections. House rules regularly limit debate and require only a simple majority of votes to pass legislation.

 A growing number of Senate Democrats think the upper chamber should adopt similar rules, or at least curb the power of the minority party to delay legislation and nominations.

 Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, have been quick to respond to the concerns of junior Democrats.

 Durbin has held meetings with the lawmakers to review Senate rules reforms.

 Schumer, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, has promised to hold hearings on filibuster reforms.

 Durbin and Schumer could run against each other for the post of majority leader if Reid, who is trailing in the polls, loses his reelection battle.

 Several Democrats, including members elected in 2008, have offered proposals to reform the filibuster.

 Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) has called for Senate Democrats to employ the constitutional option to reform chamber rules.

 Under such a scenario, the chamber’s presiding officer, presumably Senate President and Vice President Joe Biden, would recognize a motion to adopt new rules for the 112th Congress. Republicans could object, but Biden would likely overrule them and a majority of Democrats could vote to sustain the ruling.

 Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) has called for several specific reforms of the filibuster. He has proposed ending the practice of placing anonymous holds; eliminating the ability to filibuster a motion to proceed to a bill; and requiring lawmakers who support a filibuster to show up on the Senate floor.

 Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), one of the chamber’s most senior members, has also offered a reform plan.

 Under Harkin’s proposal, the first vote to end a filibuster would require 60 votes. If it failed, a second vote could be scheduled two days later that would require only 57 votes to end debate. After another two days elapsed, a third vote to cut off debate would require 54 votes. After two more days, a fourth vote could be held to cut off debate with 51 votes.