Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 10, 2010

REID EYES 'LIKELY' CHANGES TO SENATE RULES.... Meeting with center-left journalists on the Hill today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) not only blamed Republicans' tactics for the chamber's difficulties, but vowed to consider changes in the next Congress.

In a speech before a gathering of progressive media, Reid compared the procedural games played by his Republican counterparts to the use of the spitball in a baseball game and the four-corner offense in basketball -- tactics in each sport that were ultimately outlawed.

"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 said. "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 has traditionally resisted talk of changing Senate procedures, but in light of the truly scandalous Republican tactics, it seems the Majority Leader has concluded he has no choice -- not only is the status quo untenable and undermining the nation's interests, but Reid likely realizes that he personally is being blamed for a 59-member majority not being able to govern or vote on its agenda.

It's not clear exactly what kind of changes Reid would be open to -- he didn't say -- but the fact that reform will be at least be on the table is heartening.

In terms of when we can expect to see changes, or even the possibility of changes, this year will likely offer very little. Reid noted consideration of changes in the "next Congress," which as Sam Stein noted, is a significant qualifier: "To change Senate rules in the middle of the session requires 67 votes, which Democrats clearly don't have. But changing the rules at the beginning of the 112th Congress will require the chair to declare the Senate is in a new session and can legally draft new rules. That ruling would be made by Vice President Joe Biden, who has spoken out against the current abuse of the filibuster. The ruling can be appealed, but that appeal can be defeated with a simple majority vote."

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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considering the likelihood that Reid won't even be a member of the next congress, it rings a little hollow.
I'm hoping Chuck Schumer is the next majority leader, at least the guy has a pair.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on March 10, 2010 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

And I will believe it when Dick Durbin takes over the office of Senate Majority Leader!

Every once in a while, Harry 'Spineless' Reid talks the talk! When has he ever walked the walk?

Even if it narrows the democratic party majority in the senate, it is quite possibly a plus if Reid would lose.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 10, 2010 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry Allan...

Chuck Schumer may have a pair, but they are owned by Wall Street & he is among the last our country needs running the senate.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 10, 2010 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

"considering the likelihood that Reid won't even be a member of the next congress, it rings a little hollow."

My thought exactly. Sounds like posturing to try to convince the base that harry hasn't been an entirely ineffective weasel as majority leader.

Posted by: tlaloc on March 10, 2010 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

If the Dims get by 2010 without disastrous losses, they better start out #112 with big muscle.

Posted by: neill on March 10, 2010 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Given the probability that Dems will lose at LEAST 2-3 seats in the Senate (one of them almost certainly Reid's) maintaining the status quo with the filibuster means even LESS will get done over the next 2 years.

But I honestly don't see this happening. Too many blue-dogs (Nelson) and 'moderate'Dems benefit from the current rules. They get to wield power way out of proportion to their actual status. And then there are those wedded to 'tradition' who will simply refuse to go along. I just don't see how the Dems get to 50 votes to change the rules.

Posted by: thorin-1 on March 10, 2010 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

In the selling game this tack is known as "assuming the sale," or as the "presumptive close."
It's an especially pathetic gambit, and unless masterfully done, usually fails to work with all but the stupidest of customers.

Posted by: smartalek on March 10, 2010 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Why not after the next recess?

Posted by: gfw on March 10, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

@gfw, my understanding is that once a (2 year) Congressional session has begun, Senate rules can be changed only with a 2/3 majority, i.e., 67 votes. However, at the beginning of a new session (e.g., January 2011), the Senate rules are approved by a simple majority (50% plus 1, the Vice-President casting the deciding vote in case of a tie).

The question for the Democrats is are there 50 members who have run out of patience with the Republicans' tactics and abuse of the rules?

P.S. Obama's willingness to go the extra mile, as it were, to demostrate his willingness to work across party lines (as he did as both an Illinois and US senator) could help here, if Senators like Max Baucus will side with Harkin, Udall, et al., on this issue.

Posted by: massappeal on March 10, 2010 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I find this hilarious. Yes, duh, let's change the rules in January 2010. No, Harry Reid won't be the one doing that. Had he embraced this position and other displays of spine a lot earlier, he might have been. But it'll be Dick or Chuck (who incidentally are roommates in DC) doing it now.

Posted by: shortstop on March 10, 2010 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Harry Reid may yet keep his seat. There is a teabagger candidate in the race now, so it will be a 3way in November.

Posted by: Patrick on March 10, 2010 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

It could happen. Stranger things have. The politically brilliant FDR said activists and reformers had to *make him do what they (and he) wanted. Change is rare because no one wants to bother getting their hands dirty and doing real work. Too hard, too painful.

Reformers need to target their efforts where they can get leverage. Somehow make the status quo intolerable (too embarrassing?) for the ones maintaining it. Clear communication. Carrots and sticks. Especially sticks. Staying stuck has to be removed as an option.

Posted by: FC on March 10, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Massappeal: it's my understanding, which I think is backed up on various blogs over the past few months that Biden could simply declare super majority rules unconstitutional from the chair, and so long as 51 votes supported that ruling, voilà new rules.

I'm interested in why that won't happen, when republicans have decided that the institution of the senate is worth destroying

Posted by: Gfw on March 10, 2010 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

First it was 'we don't have the majority, so we can't do anything.'

Then, Dems won majorities in the Legislature, yet would not stop the Iraq war, and they let retroactive telecom immunity happen.

Next, it was 'we don't have enough votes, so we can't pass anything.'

Then, Dems had 60 members in the Senate, yet they could not get all of them to vote on already compromised, watered-down health care legislation. Then, it was decided that the differences between the two Chambers would be voted on via reconciliation, which requires 51 votes--a majority. We hear that even 50 (+ Biden if needed) may not happen.

Now, they tell us they're 'going to do something' about the filibuster. I'm sure Biden's on board, but something tells me that they just won't be able to muster the 50 votes needed to make changes that everyone knows are needed.

Can't upset 'comity.'

Posted by: terraformer on March 10, 2010 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Reality check here ...

Dems are going to lose
* North Dakota and
* Delaware.
They will probably lose
* Arkansas,
* Indiana, and
* Neveda ( yes Reid )
but say 2 of 3 ( i.e. Reid wins ).

They could lose
* Colorado,
* Illinois, and
* Pennsylvania
With 3 dem states in toss-up and 2 rep ... let's call it +1 for Republicans and the others wash out.

Long shots after that are California and New York -- you can consider Washington in that category because if Rossi decides to run here he will beat Murray by anywhere from 3 to 15 percent. But he supposedly wants to "run the shop" i.e. governor versus negotiate differences.

So it is more than within reason to predict that the Republicans will start the year off with 6 seats gained for 47 seats.

Now Reid would REALLY want to throw away the filibuster.
Except then he would be looking at 2012 and 2014.

In 2012 the Dems are defending 20 seats to 13. And of those 13 the only one that is not the safest of safe is Brown in MA.

In 2014 it is just as bad ... Dems holding 20 seats to the Republicans 13and those would be the safest of safe seats if they survived the blood bath of 2008.

The numbers tend to normalize. Part of what was in play in addition to the completely anti-republican sentiment in 2008 was the republicans where defending 21 seats to 12 ( plus two special elections for 23-12 ).
They would expect to lose 3-4 seats for normalization.

The Dems can expect to lose seats down to a 17-16 or 17-17 split. This means JUST on the basis of the facts ... the Dems SHOULD expect to lose 6-8 more seats over the two cycles after this one.

Which means IF
The republicans gain only 3 Seats this fall ... Reid will shove through breaking the filibuster.
He can safely feel it will be until 2016 before he has to pay the price.

If the Republicans gain 6 seats or more there isn't a chance in hell he will pass the filibuster rule change. As the Republicans will have it in 2012. And truth be told he may not have the votes anyways because as far as changing the filibuster drop both Ben Nelson and Joe Leibermann at the very least.

If the Republicans gain 4 or 5 seats ... THAT will be the tough call for Reid.
Enough that they will have majority by 2014 and within striking distance come 2012.

It will be a close call.

......... Mostly for this fall keep an eye on Boxer.
Yes it IS possible to win in New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois while Boxer loses.
Every state is unique.
BUT ...
You can lose all three of those states and still see Boxer winning.
I don't see any way for Boxer to lose that isn't a wave that will wipe out all 3 of those as well.

If Boxer loses, the Republicans will take the Senate back. Hers will be the deciding seat.
(Yes in a 50-50 tie Joe gets to make the deciding vote ... sadly it won't be Joe Biden. It will be Joe Leibermann saying "So who is gonna make ME the Senator Pro Tempe?" )

Posted by: Chromehawk on March 11, 2010 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

The ignorance of how Congress works on here is astounding. While every 2 years is a "new" Congress, that really only appies to the House of Representatives. They can vote new operating rules by majority vote - meaning which ever party has the majority rules.
The Senate however is considered a "continuing body" - only 1/3 of the seats are up for election every election cycle. While rule changes are possible at the beginning of a session, it must be by super majority vote. If not, the rules in the Senate would also change every 2 years. Dont you think the Dems would have gotten rid of the fillibuster in Jan 2010 if it only needed majority vote.
And even with 60 votes (which they did have in Jan because Franken had not yet been seated), the Senators love the fillibuster even if it occassionally works against them.
The VP - as Senate President - has virtually no power over how the Senate operates. The Parliamentarian has more power. The VP's only real power is to break tie votes.
I think posters on here needed to go back to high school for some government civics classes.

Posted by: Fox Mulder on March 11, 2010 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK



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