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May 16, 2013 10:35 AM Harry Reid Does Senate Reform

By Jonathan Bernstein

Brian Beutler has the latest on Harry Reid’s current plans, or at least his current rhetoric.

Reid’s decision to eschew significant reforms to Senate filibuster rules at the beginning of the current Congress — and his continuing reluctance to revisit those rules despite recent filibusters of cabinet nominees — angers allies both on and off of Capitol Hill.

But he continues to approach the issue cautiously.

“I’m not going to do anything now, precipitously,” he said. “But I’m looking at this very closely…. We’re going to fill that job. Cordray is there now. He’s going to get a vote.”

Reid wasn’t able to explain why he believes (or claims to believe) Cordray will ultimately be confirmed. But he alluded to the possibility that he may pursue a rules change mid-session.

Good reporting, but I’ll make two points about it.

1. One of the pieces here is that Harry Reid has to educate everyone, contrary to the conventional wisdom pushed in large part by reformers over the past few years, to the reality that the rules can be changed during a session of Congress. Probably necessary if he wants to get buy-in from editorial boards and good government types. As is really demonstrating just how bad the problem is in ways they can understand — remember that numerous reporters claimed that the Hagel nomination was the first to be filibustered during Obama’s presidency, despite the plain fact that every nomination has been filibustered during Obama’s presidency.

2. Don’t assume that Harry Reid has a lot of autonomy here. Even Speakers of the House must be responsive to their conference, but Senate Majority Leaders really just don’t wield all that much influence. They are servants of their caucus, not masters of it. Reid can’t do anything at all here without 51 of the 55 Democrats, and if (again) he wants to keep the good government folks on his side, he’s going to need all or almost all of those with him. And if they don’t want to? He has very few ways to influence them.

Worth repeating: the bottom line here is that almost every Democrat would prefer an outcome that allows most nominations to pass by simple majority vote while leaving the basic filibuster rules intact. They probably prefer eliminating the filibuster to complete and total obstruction…but there’s almost certainly some point at which partial obstruction is more acceptable for them than reform. And that’s a reasonable position!

And of course, the level of obstruction, while unprecedented and thoroughly unjustified, is still not total. And it’s not even clear what the level is at any particular time.

All of which makes Harry Reid’s job a lot more difficult than it might seem.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
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Comments

  • rrk1 on May 16, 2013 7:15 PM:

    If there is no meaningful filibuster reform, Obama's presidency is dead, dead, dead.

  • phillygirl on May 16, 2013 10:23 PM:

    I don't see how "partial obstruction" is a reasonable position, especially when you consider that the Republicans will obliterate the filibuster the moment they retake the Senate. The only logical explanation for what's going on now is that many Democrats in the caucus simply don't want to have to vote on anything. Ever.

  • Jamie on May 17, 2013 12:51 AM:

    I'm thinking it's like Charlie Brown and Lucy and the football

  • Louis King on May 17, 2013 9:47 AM:

    It is evident that the Senate works hardest at making the Senate not work at all.