For proponents of filibuster reform, today, Jan. 22, was a day circled on the calendar. As the Senate returns to session today, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was set to announce a way forward on improving the way the dysfunctional chamber operates.
Would he pursue bold reforms? Would Reid rely on the “constitutional option”? Would he back down? We’re going to find out – but it probably won’t be today. The Majority Leader’s office issued a lengthy statement about the upcoming session, and towards the end, pointed to a delayed decision on proposed reforms.
Because this matter warrants additional debate, today we will follow the precedents set in 2005 and again in 2011. We will reserve the right of all Senators to propose changes to the Senate rules. And we will explicitly not acquiesce in the carrying over of all the rules from the last Congress. It is my intention that the Senate will recess today, rather than adjourn, to continue the same legislative day, and allow this important rules discussion to continue. I am hopeful the Republican leader and I will reach an agreement that allows the Senate to operate more effectively.
This may need some translating. The Senate can change its procedural rules on the first legislative day of the session, but the first day can actually last for weeks. Indeed, it’s Jan. 22 and the chamber is still technically on Day 1, because it’s been in recess. Reid wants that to continue.
Why? Because talks over possible reforms are still ongoing and Reid isn’t quite ready to finalize plans. The goal, apparently, is to strike a bipartisan agreement, because the Majority Leader is reluctant to pursue the “constitutional option” (or “nuclear option,” depending who you’re talking to and when) that would change the rules with a simple 51-vote majority.
To that end, Reid met with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this morning, with the hopes of finishing a modest reforms package, which they could then bring to their respective caucuses later today.
If they don’t reach an agreement, the “constitutional option” is still on the table. If they do strike a deal but their caucuses balk, we may yet see a more aggressive effort from reform-minded Democrats.
But if Reid and McConnell reach some kind of resolution, it’s likely to be underwhelming and narrow, bearing little resemblance to some of the ambitious plans pushed by several Democrats. Indeed, if Reid were serious about bold changes, he wouldn’t be negotiating with McConnell at all – he’d be rounding up 51 votes from his own caucus.