Yesterday was supposed to have been the day when the U.S. Senate would decide whether and how to reform its rules regarding the filibuster. However, it did not happen. Decision was postponed again.
The apparent reason for the delay is the desire of Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (Democat of Nevada), to continue discussions about a possible bipartisan, compromise reform package with Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky).
Manu Raju of Politico reports that the two Senators met yesterday morning on this issue. The exact details of their discussions are still unknown.
But Reid apparently is pressing to eliminate filibusters preventing debate on legislation from even starting, from entering talks with the House of Representatives and from voting on certain presidential nominations, particularly district court judicial nominees. Reid also is reported to be considering requiring 41 senators to vote to sustain a filibuster, a subtle shift from the current practice that requires 60 votes to break the stalling tactic. This proposal would shift the burden on the opposing party and force the opponents to ensure all their votes are present.
McConnell, on the other hand, apparently wants to ensure that the minority has a guaranteed number of amendments if the majority chooses to speed debate. Previously Senators Carl Levin (Democrat of Michigan) and John McCain (Republican of Arizona) were leaders of a small group suggesting the minority be able to offer at least two amendments while preventing them from filibustering in a handful of situations.
After yesterday’s Senate Democratic caucus luncheon, Reid said that having the Senate decide the filibuster reform issues would be postponed 24 to 36 hours in order to allow the two leaders to continue their discussions.
However, Reid added in his public statement that if the Republicans still did not agree on this bipartisan proposal in that time period, Reid would proceed with adopting a reform measure with the so called “constitutional” or “nuclear” option whereby a simple majority of the Senate (at least 51 of the 100 Senators and all Democrats and Independents).
Yesterday afternoon Reid recessed the chamber, rather than adjourning, in order to extend the first legislative day of the session and thereby extend the time to use the “constitutional” or “nuclear” option.
In the meantime, the New York Times reiterated its editorial support for reform. It complained that over the last six years, there has been “an unprecedented abuse of the filibuster by Republicans, who have used the practice to hold up nominees high and low and require a supermajority for virtually every bill.” The newspaper also lamented that the Democrats appeared to be considering “only a few half-measures” and instead should also abolish the so called “silent filibuster.”
The Times said, “Supermajorities were never intended to be a routine legislative barrier; they should be reserved for the most momentous bills, and the best way to make that happen is to require that objectors work hard for their filibuster, assembling a like-minded coalition and being forthright about their concerns rather than hiding in the shadows or holding up a bill with an e-mailed note.”
As explained in prior posts, I agree with the Times, except I would go further and abolish the filibuster altogether.
 Raju, Reid: Will shift filibuster rules, if no deal set, Politco (Jan. 22, 2013). See also Peters & Parker, Reid Optimistic for Filibuster Deal in Senate, N.Y. Times ( Jan. 22, 2013); Halderman, Reid says filibuster reform deal is close, Wash. Post (Jan. 22, 2013).