As expected, the weak, watered-down filibuster reform plan that does not actually reform the filibuster was easily approved by the Senate last night, 78 to 16. Some of the Democrats who took the lead in pushing for bolder changes, including Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), grudgingly went along, knowing it was this or nothing.
But once it became clear that the measure would pass, reformers tried to put a positive spin on the developments. This package fell far short of expectations, they said, but if these minor changes fail to improve matters, and the Senate remains a dysfunctional mess, Democrats can and will return to the issue and push for more sweeping improvements.
But if reformers are hoping to get another bite at this apple, they should know they’ll have to wait until 2015, at the earliest. Sahil Kapur reported this morning that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised Republicans “he will not seek to make any further changes to the filibuster or other rules in the 113th Congress without Republican consent.”
“Finally,” [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell] asked, “I would confirm with the Majority Leader that the Senate would not consider other resolutions [in] relation to any standing order or rules this Congress unless they went through the regular order process?”
The Democratic leader was categorical in his response. “That is correct,” Reid responded. “Any other resolutions related to Senate procedure would be subject to a regular order process including consideration by the Rules Committee.”
In other words, the “constitutional option” (or “nuclear option”) is off the table for at least two years. Though Senate Republicans originally considered making these changes mid-year when the strategy was proposed during the Bush/Cheney era, Reid has ruled out unilateral action – telling Republicans that no matter how much they abuse the rules, and no matter how severe their knee-jerk obstructionism becomes, Democrats won’t do anything about it except complain. If Democrats even try to come up with improvements, Reid has agreed to get the Minority Leader’s permission first – and McConnell will say no.
If reform-minded activists outside of Congress hope to persuade senators to make more meaningful changes to the broken chamber, they’ll have 24 months to come up with an effective game plan.
Update: Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson, told Kapur this morning that there are other options for rules changes, and that Reid hasn’t “ruled out” the possibility of additional actions in this Congress.