Wednesday, November 28, 2012

filibuster reform Republicans can't refuse

Right now the rhetoric is heated and the threats of legislative chaos abundant. Senate majority leader Harry Reid [D-NV] is warning that he will propose filibuster reforms at the start of the new Congress and minority leader Mitch McConnell [R-KY] is threatening massive retaliation. That's why a somewhat similar idea was called the "nuclear option."

No need to duck and cover. This is the way the Senate does business. In 2005 the Republican majority leader threatened to force a rules change allowing majority votes to confirm Bush judicial nominees, but he backed off when a bipartisan "Gang of 14" proposed deescalation. A promise of better behavior left the rules unchanged but more nominees confirmed. Two years ago, Reid opposed filibuster reforms because of a better behavior promise by McConnell. Now he's a changed man.

History shows that the Senate often changes its rules a little only when faced with a threat that the rules will be changed a lot. That's what happened in 1957 and again in 1975. With the prospect of a total end to the filibuster overhanging urgent negotiations, Senators agreed to modifications in the filibuster rule.

I think that's what will happen this time. Democrats aren't proposing an end to filibuster, just restrictions on their use and with a greater burden on the obstructionists to hold the floor and debate. TPM's Brian Beutler laid out the confusing sequence of parliamentary moves two years ago; this is the likely scenario for next January.

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