Reid says Dems may curb the filibuster
© Greg Nash

Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE (D-Nev.) says Democrats should considering changing the rules to limit the use of the filibuster next year if they win the White House and recapture the Senate. 

Reid told Carl Hulse of The New York Times that the days of moving legislation through the Senate with bipartisan super majorities are largely over. 

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He said unless the chamber becomes dramatically more functional after the election, the filibuster rule will have to be changed.

“Unless after this election there is a dramatic change to go back to the way it used to be, the Senate will have to evolve as it has in the past,” Reid said. “But it will evolve with a majority vote determining stuff. It is going to happen.”

In the late 1990s and earlier, the Senate often passed major amendments with simple-majority votes. These days, anything controversial almost always requires 60 votes, including attaching amendments to legislation that must later win 60 votes to pass.

Reid has complained frequently in the last several years over the number of filibusters Republicans employed to thwart President Obama’s agenda when Democrats controlled the Senate.

Since taking over as majority leader at the beginning of last year, Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHow the Democratic Party's campaign strategy is failing America GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation We don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis MORE (R-Ky.) has crowed about what he has done to restore the Senate to functionality. But Reid and his Democratic colleagues argue the Senate has achieved more in the current 114th Congress because they have been fairly cooperative in the minority.

Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman, referred to the comments he gave the Times when asked for a response to Reid.

He argued that it’s “odd” for Reid to complain about the filibuster being too powerful when Democrats are waging “multiple filibusters at the moment.”  

“Why doesn’t he start next week by ending the Democrats’ filibusters of anti-Zika funding, of veterans funding, of funding our troops in the field?” he said.

Reid said he expects Republicans would throw up all sorts of obstructionist obstacles if Democrats regain the majority next year. He believes their strategy will be to once again portray the Democrats as unable to get things done, even though many bills stall because of Republican filibusters.

Reid says Democrats might not have any other choice but to change the rules unilaterally through a controversial procedure known as the nuclear option.

“What choice would Democrats have?” he said in the Times interview. “The country can’t be run this way, where nothing gets done.”

Reid in the last Congress used his power as majority leader to strip the minority of the power to filibuster executive branch and judicial nominees below the level of Supreme Court. 

If Republicans attempted to block Supreme Court nominees from Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE, should she win the White House, Democrats would be sorely tempted to protect such nominees from filibusters. 

The strategy, however, will not be decided by Reid but instead by his deputy, Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerAnti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Democrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol MORE (D-N.Y.), who is slated to take over as Senate Democratic leader after the election. 

Schumer would be majority leader next year if Democrats pick up at least five seats, or four seats and keep the White House. Republicans are defending 24 seats in the election, while Democrats only need to protect 10.

Democrats will have to worry about defending 23 seats and two held by independents who caucus with them in 2018, when Republicans will have only eight seats up for reelection. 

The possibility of the chamber flipping back to Republican control after the 2018 midterms could prompt Schumer and other Democratic leaders to proceed cautiously with unilateral filibuster reform in the 115th Congress. 

Some changes under discussion include eliminating the filibuster on the motion to begin debating legislation on the floor. The minority often filibusters this motion to stop the majority from even considering amendments on the floor. It’s usually easier to kill a moderately popular bill before the public begins paying attention to it than after weeks of floor debate.

Another proposal is instituting the so-called talking filibuster, which would require senators to actively debate and hold the floor in order to hold up legislation. This would put a greater burden on the minority to block action. Under current rules, senators can hold up business merely by stating their objections.