Political Animal


November 30, 2012 11:59 AM Odds Improving on Filibuster Reform

By Ed Kilgore

As consideration of the “constitutional option” of a Senate rules change restricting the filibuster by a majority vote becomes serious, handicapping of individual senators is also getting underway. Thanks to the 2012 elections, Harry Reid could lose up to five members of his Caucus and still prevail. A breakdown by The Hill’s Alexander Bolton lists ten Democrats (including Indiana’s newly elected Joe Donnelly, who is apparently not on record at all on this subject) who are not publicly on board with a rules change that would ban filibusters on motions to proceed and require “talking filibusters” instead of filibustering by mere threat.

When you go through the list of holdouts, however, the number likely to buck Reid (who has himself reversed his position since the 2011 vote on a very similar Udall/Merkely/Harkin measure) begins to shrink. John Kerry, who has additional reasons to be a team player right now, is “leaning heavily” towards support. Jay Rockefeller says he’d prefer “radical over nothing.” Daniel Inouye’s doubts are only about the “talking filibuster” ban (entirely legitimate doubts, as Jonathan Bernstein keeps pointing out). Diane Feinstein is similarly on board a ban on filibustering motions to proceed. Bill Nelson doesn’t like the “constitutional option,” but says “I’m supporting Harry Reid.” Max Baucus and Jack Reed seem entirely neutral at this point, which makes it unlikely they’d buck Reid and the Caucus and kill reform.

That leaves two Senate Democrats who voted against the 2011 bill and haven’t said anything indicating a change of position: Carl Levin and Mark Pryor. If they and Donnelly wind up being the only holdouts, then Reid would comfortably have the votes without any concessions to bring a Republican or two on board. And you’d figure Levin might be susceptible to some back-home Blue State pressure if push comes to shove.

It’s also possible, of course, that the proposal could be modified to solidify the Democratic vote, or that once Reid has the votes a deal could be struck with Republicans restricting filibusters without resorting to the “constitutional option.”

All in all, we’re a lot closer to filibuster reform than anyone might have expected until very recently. Whether the reforms under discussion will make a big difference in how the Senate operates is a different, and the ultimate, question.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on November 30, 2012 12:11 PM:

    And if the Democrats make these changes, the Republicans will have no one to blame but themselves.

    If they hadn't acted like such Nihilists, refusing to even negotiate, let alone let anything pass, it would never have come to this, since most Democrats nowaday's are fairly conservative, too.

    'Hoist by your own retards,' Republicans.*

    My apologies for using the "R" word.

  • MImikatz on November 30, 2012 12:32 PM:

    We Californians ought to let Lady DiFi know how we feel about the filibuster. What cam the GOPsters do that is worse than what they have already done?

  • MuddyLee on November 30, 2012 12:48 PM:

    If Mitch McConnell is against it, it's probably the right thing to do - support Reid. McConnell and the republicans were all obstruction all the time in Obama's first term - they should have to reap what they sowed.

  • Napoleon on November 30, 2012 12:48 PM:

    The more I think of it the reform I would be most happy with is changing the rule so that only 51 can change the rules mid-term. They get that and some other real reforms so that the Reps know you mean business and it is a powerful incentive for them to only monkey around when they really feel they have no choice.

  • Mudge on November 30, 2012 12:52 PM:

    The Republicans are playing Brer Rabbit. The filibuster reforms are minimal and focused on Senate confirmation votes. Use of the "constitutional option" by Democrats, however, allows the Republicans to (someday) win back the Senate and jam the "option" down the Democrats' throats. The Republicans then have the excuse that Democrats did it first. I have no idea how the menadcious, sociopathic Republicans would routinely use the "option" to their benefit. Some Democratic staffer should imagine the worst, realize that the Republicans will do whatever that is, and make us all aware of the consequences.

  • abs0628 on November 30, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Re: John Kerry -- Could you provide your source to describe him as "leaning heavily" in favor of filibuster reform?

    FYI -- Senator Kerry recently posted at length @ BlueMassGroup about his strong (current and past) support for filibuster reform, in response to a diary I posted there:


  • jjm on November 30, 2012 1:23 PM:

    I still want to see single senator secret holds banned.

    So many great nominees were killed by this tactic, from Peter Diamond to Goodwin Liu to Dawn Johnsen...

  • James E. Powell on November 30, 2012 2:35 PM:

    This is another episode of "Why can't Democrats win the Big Ones?"

    Every Democratic senator ought to be stating his or her intention, or at least inclination, to get rid of the filibuster altogether. The response from the most vocal Republicans would be war declarations, but in the quieter rooms, sober Republicans would be proposing deals while thoughtful Democrats stroked their chins.

    Whatever resulted from those conversations would be better for Democratic senators of all shades in all states than what they have now.

    Why don't they see that? Why don't they do that?

  • gdb on November 30, 2012 2:41 PM:

    Dems lose unless they entiurely eliminate the filibuster NOW.. partial reform will be abused and Dems will continue to suffer. Repubs will eliminate it first time they need to, once back in power.

  • jsjiowa on November 30, 2012 3:25 PM:

    I agree with jjm on eliminating holds. And I'd specifically eliminate filibusters on appointments. Every nomination ought to get an up-or-down vote in 60, or even 90 days. That's enough time to look at someone's record and raise a ruckus if necessary. I'm especially concerned about judicial nominations, not only in the short term (with many federal courts experiencing long vacancies and heavy workloads), but also the long term (conservatives have had more judicial appointments in recent years, in part because they made it a priority to influence the law, whereas Obama has not really pushed on this issue).

  • Aaron Morrow on November 30, 2012 5:05 PM:

    "It’s also possible, of course, that the proposal could be modified to solidify the Democratic vote, or that once Reid has the votes a deal could be struck with Republicans restricting filibusters without resorting to the “constitutional option.” "

    What exactly was the deal made in 2011, and how did that not work?

    Also, Bill Nelson may vote a lot less liberal than I would prefer, but he's a champ for cutting his deals outside the Beltway press.

  • fredamae on December 01, 2012 3:03 PM:

    Who is being left out of this discussion? We are! Who benefits the Most by this reform? We, the people will...In March of 1975 we were denied the opportunity to hear the rationale, facts, conclusions/reasoning behind our lawmakers decisions to support or oppose any given legislation vis filibuster. We are left in the dark about who initiates these important proceedings.

    Sens Merkley and Udall seek to Restore the rules to its origins--and thusly restoring Our opportunities to be more informed about issues/legislation affecting our lives.

    When this happens, those of us who Want to be more engaged in "The Peoples Government" will have the opportunity to Know Who Objects, Why they object, When they object and certainly What they object. We are, under current 1975 rules Denied this information--oft times denied the very idenity of Who is doing it.

    Why the lawmakers leave the actual beneficiaries to these changes Out of the conversation and Out of consideration for action(s) demonstrates we are Often forgotten by our reps on Both sides of the aisle. It is up to us to let them All understand this is Unacceptable and We will have our seat at the table as we/if we choose to particupate.