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Harry Reid Promises Filibuster Reform

NEWS
Harry Reid Promises Filibuster Reform

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Senate Democrats on Wednesday sought to inject fresh momentum into efforts to overhaul the filibuster, with top Democrats laying the groundwork to reform the procedural weapon next year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has long been opposed to changing the filibuster, said Wednesday that the Senate was “likely” going to have to make changes to the tool next year — complaining that it has been abused by Republicans.

“The filibuster has been abused. I believe that the Senate should be different than the House and will continue to be different than the House,” Reid told liberal bloggers, according to The Huffington Post.

“But we’re going to take a look at the filibuster. Next Congress, we’re going to take a look at it. We are likely to have to make some changes in it, because the Republicans have abused that just like the spitball was abused in baseball and the four-corner offense was abused in basketball.”

Reid comments came as he was preparing to meet Wednesday afternoon with junior Democrats who are clamoring for a more confrontational approach to the GOP minority — including a more sustained effort to overhaul the filibuster. And they came after Sen. Chuck Schumer, No. 3 in Senate leadership, announced that his Rules and Administration Committee would hold a series of hearings looking at overhauling the practice.

“I think there’s some real momentum,” said New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall (D), who plans to offer a resolution at the beginning of the new Congress to allow Senate rules to change with a simple majority – rather than the 67 senators required to change the rules under the current system.

Udall said that Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008 have discussed in private meetings a “broad way” to reform the Senate, and some of those newer Democrats have met with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to talk about short-term tactics for the rest of the year and a long-term overhaul of filibuster rules.

“The Senate as an institution can’t continue breaking down into these long stretches of inactivity,” said Durbin, who has signed onto a filibuster reform proposal offered by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) but has yet to endorse Udall’s. “We are unresponsive to the needs of this country if the filibuster is abused.”

Still, many Democrats acknowledge they lack the votes to change filibuster rules this year – and even with the new rhetoric from top Democrats, several senior aides and senators said any changes would be incremental at best. Some Democrats fear that Udall’s plan would create a dangerous precedent in the future – and proponents are unlikely to get support from moderate Democrats who could see their influence vanish if filibusters were curtailed.

“When you’re in the majority, filibuster reform looks pretty good – when you’re in the minority, filibuster reform looks pretty bad,” said conservative Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). He added: “I can’t see that I would” support reform of the filibuster.

But focusing on the issue gives Democrats a political argument that could make to voters angry that bills have stalled on Capitol Hill. Democrats are increasingly arguing that the GOP’s use of the filibuster — which requires several days and 60 votes to break — is the reason for their problems in governing.

Republicans point out that Democrats had 60 seats for much of the Congress, until Republican Sen. Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy’s seat in January. And they say Democrats almost certainly would boycott the idea if they find themselves in the minority next year or the verge of losing their majority in 2012.

Still, Schumer warned skeptics that the filibuster could very well be changed in some form.

“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion one way or another,” Schumer said.

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