Monday, April 8, 2013

Ready for Change?

Wasn't this supposed to be solved already? Back in January, US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) secured a "gentlemen's agreement" with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to make some minor tweaks to the Senate's filibuster policy. Supposedly, it was about to improve the Senate's ability to pass legislation.

Yet since then, we've only seen more filibusters and even more Congressional gridlock. And with gun safety legislation, along with comprehensive immigration reform, judicial nominations, and more federal budget debate, coming very soon, even more filibusters are being threatened. Oh, yikes.

So now, Senator Reid is threatening to blow up the January "gentlemen's agreement". After all, is this kind of behavior really "gentleman like"?

“All within the sound of my voice — including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with — should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority,” Reid told Nevada Public Radio in a little-noticed interview Friday. “And I will do that if necessary.”

Reid said he had recently spoken with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and President Obama to review their options, and then issued his ultimatum to Republicans: stop your relentless filibusters or the Democratic majority will strip away your power to do so.

“I’m a very patient man,” he said. “We made changes but the time will tell whether they’re big enough. I’m going to wait and build a case. If the Republicans in the Senate don’t start approving some judges, and don’t start helping get some of these nominations done, then we’re going to have to take more action.”

The remarks — which come ahead of a confirmation hearing for Obama’s latest nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sri Srinivasan — represent Reid’s most pointed threat to revisit filibuster reform after the modest rules change enacted in January that preserved the 60-vote threshold. Contrary to a popular misconception, Senate leadership has the power to change the rules in the middle of a congressional session with a bare majority of votes.

On Friday, Senator Reid called into KNPR's "State of Nevada" and made his case. He especially seemed exasperated over recent economic troubles. So he finally declared his interest in real filibuster reform.

So will it finally happen? Steve Benen and Greg Sargent expressed doubt earlier this morning.

As we talked about a few weeks ago, what have we seen from the Senate since the deal? The first-ever filibuster of a cabinet nominee, a filibuster of a CIA nominee, and multiple threats of a filibuster against the Labor Secretary nominee. Republicans have filibustered judicial nominees they don't like and judicial nominees they do like. GOP senators have promised to use filibusters to stop the Obama administration from enforcing the law as it relates to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to stop the president's nominee to lead the ATF and the EPA. All of this is represents a level of abuse without precedent.

And so, as he's done before, Reid is suggesting he's open to more ambitious reforms, and on Friday, was a little more explicit on this point than he's been since January. [...]

I have no idea what Reid has in mind. His use of the phrase "build a case," struck me as interesting -- perhaps the Majority Leader is creating a lengthy indictment, and is racking up examples for later use -- but I can't say with confidence that it will lead to anything specific.

But Greg's absolutely right about the importance of follow-through -- if Reid's threats amount to warnings, urging Republicans to reconsider their abusive tactics before they force Democrats' hands, then the Majority Leader's recent rhetoric makes sense. But if he's not prepared to give the "nuclear option" a serious look, Reid really needs to stop suggesting it's on the table.

Personally, I think it's more complicated than what Greg Sargent thinks. As we've discussed before, Senator Reid is very much an institutionalist. He believes in the institution of the US Senate. And he doesn't want to do anything to undermine the reputation and the collegiality of the Senate.

It's been taking Senator Reid some time to realize that the collegiality is long gone, especially now that the "tea party" has strengthened its grip of the Republican Party. He's had to learn the long and hard way, but I suspect he has indeed been learning this lesson. Senator Reid perhaps hoped for one more chance to fix the gridlock "the easy way" in January, but that's clearly not working. So maybe he's finally ready for real change.

Whatever the case, the nation is ready for real change. Even though the American people long ago reached broad consensus on matters like infrastructure investment, social safety net preservation, immigration reform, and even gun safety reform, hardly anything can move in the US Senate because of the filibuster. It may finally be time for a change. Is Harry Reid finally ready to make it?

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