Thursday, January 24, 2013


Yesterday, we talked about possible changes to the filibuster in the US Senate. Today, it looks very dead. Why? Harry Reid cut a deal with Mitch McConnell.

Here's how Senator Reid explained his latest move.

A second explanation for Reid’s early enthusiasm for reform might be that Reid needed to convince McConnell to strike a deal and that the only way to do that was to scare him a bit. “Whenever you change the rules here,” Reid said, “you have to show the other side you can change them with 51 votes.” It’s the fear of the partisan reforms, in other words, that leads to bipartisan reforms.

Reid still wants to keep Republicans a little scared. He recalled that earlier in the 112th session of Congress, Senate Republicans began filing motions to suspend the rules after their filibusters were broken. “They couldn’t win these votes,” Reid said. ”It just ate up time. I put up with it for awhile and then said no more. I went to the floor, and I said that’s dilatory. The chair said no, it isn’t. I overruled the chair, and now you can’t do that because I set a precedent. I’m capable of doing more of that.”

I asked Reid whether he really thought the filibuster could survive in a Senate where, in truth, the majority leader, alongside 49 other senators and the vice president, could change any rule they wanted.

“The only way we’ll get rid of the filibuster is if it continues to be abused,” he said. “Hopefully, what we’ll do here will stop some of the abuse, but what will happenif the minority continues to abuse the rules is we won’t get rid of the filibuster, but we’ll go to something like what [Sen. Tom] Harkin has pushed, where one vote is at 57, and then another vote is at 55.”

He's always been a strong believer in Senate process, despite the whining & complaining of certain media pundits. Senate process has always been about comity, and about reaching consensus, rather than muscling together whatever majority is necessary to pass a bill (as the House typically works). Yet while Harry Reid has been able to maneuver his way to quite a few legislative victories, there's still far more to do (including legislation that's been killed by Senate filibusters in the past). And some progressives are notably irritated by Reid's reluctance to truly shake up the Senate.

“Reid said he wants to make it easier to move on bills,” the [pro-reform Senate Democratic] aide told TPM. “This doesn’t do that. He still has to negotiate with McConnell to get on a bill. This is a negligible difference to how the Senate operates today. I don’t see how they can make that argument.”

Outside proponents of reform lamented the Reid-McConnell deal.

“Unfortunately, the incremental ‘reforms” in the agreement do not go nearly far enough to deliver meaningful change,” said Fix The Senate Now, a coalition of groups pushing filibuster reform. The coalition said Democrats have “missed an opportunity to restore accountability and deliberation to the Senate, while not raising the costs of obstruction.”

So what's been agreed to? Here's the gist of it.

The new rules would permit a Senate majority to bypass the filibuster on a motion to proceed to debate with the condition that either a group of senators on each side of the aisle agrees, or the minority is guaranteed the chance to offer amendments.

The new rules limit debate time for sub-cabinet and district court nominations and reduces the number of required hours between cloture and final confirmation from 30 to two. It also lowers the number of cloture motions required to go to conference with the House.

Believe it or not, this is a big deal. Senate rules haven't been changed significantly since 1917. And the last time the filibuster was even tweaked was in 1964, when the cloture threshold was lowered from 67 votes to 60 in order to ease the way for passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Steve Benen is another progressive who's frustrated with the filibuster as is, but he thinks this negotiated package of changes is at least a good first step towards stronger reform that can fix the Senate. It's maddening to think of all the unfilled executive branch positions, all the unfilled judge's seats, and all the stalled legislation over the years. And while Reid's deal with McConnell will curb the more extreme abuses of the filibuster, it still leaves plenty of room for more of the above to happen.

Again, Harry Reid very much believes in the institution of the United States Senate. Despite the balking of some media pundits, he's given plenty of deference to Senate tradition. That's actually why some on the left are angry today. We'll just have to see if this actually helps the Senate function... And if/when the opportunity rises for stronger reform.

No comments:

Post a Comment