Senators weigh alternatives to filibuster reform

Senators weigh alternatives to filibuster reform
Senators weigh alternatives to filibuster reform

Though fiscal talks are the dominant issue in Washington right now, there are still ongoing efforts to improve the way the Senate functions, and a looming fight over what, if anything, to do about filibuster abuses that have effectively broken the institution.

For many in the Democratic majority, there will be a unique opportunity for reform on the first day of the 113th Congress, but Sahil Kapur reports that there are now talks about striking a bipartisan agreement.

Democrats are conferring with Republican senators about cutting a deal that would still change some of the Senate’s filibuster rules but avoid a showdown that would force Democrats to advance significant reforms on a majority-rules basis.

The Republicans in these talks include Sens. John McCain (AZ), Jon Kyl (AZ), Lamar Alexander (TN) and Lindsey Graham (SC), according to Politico. To enhance their leverage, they’re courting Democrats who are skittish about changing the rules of the Senate using the so-called “Constitutional” or “nuclear” option.

“I think this is yet another sign of the bipartisan concern with using the nuclear option to forever revoke the ability of the minority to participate in the legislative process,” a Senate Republican leadership aide told TPM.

It’s worth noting, in case anyone’s forgotten, that under the proposed Democratic reforms, no one is talking about forever revoking the ability of the minority to participate in the legislative process. That’s insane. In fact, under the ideas on the table, the filibuster will still exist, a determined minority of 41 senators will still be able to block up-or-down votes, amendments can still be offered, and debates will still be held.

Indeed, by this GOP leadership aide’s reasoning, the Senate was an authoritarian mess for about two centuries – right up until Republicans started forcing mandatory supermajorities for every bill of any consequence.

Regardless, the seriousness with which Democratic leaders are pursuing institutional reforms has managed to get Republicans’ attention, and have prompted GOP members to engage in a reform debate for the first time in recent memory.

So, what might the two sides agree to? I still haven’t the foggiest idea why Republicans would oppose ending filibusters on motions to proceed – they block debates on whether to have debates – and it’s far from clear what the GOP might offer to satisfy Democratic demands for change.

It seems quite unlikely, though, that we’ll see a replay of the developments of two years ago.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) fierce resistance to reforming the filibuster isn’t fazing Harry Reid, who insists that he will weaken the minority party’s power to obstruct legislative business with Republican support or without it.

“There are discussions going on now, but I want to tell everybody here: I’m happy, I’ve had a number of Republicans come to me and a few Democrats,” the Democratic majority leader told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We’re going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this way. So I hope we can get something Republicans will work with us on.

“But it won’t be a handshake,” Reid added. “We tried that last time; it didn’t work.”