It finally looks like Harry Reid has been convinced to rein in the principal form of GOP obstruction in the Senate — the filibuster. And it doesn’t look like he’ll eliminate it — but reform it so that it takes some committed work to block the Senate’s work. Apparently some of the rules revisions are still being thought out, but so far, the rules would change as follows:
Senators who want to filibuster have to be present and take the floor to speak in order to do it. Ezra Klein asked some Senate staffers about this and they told him:
First, moving to a “talking filibuster” is not seen as the minor tweak that some – including me — have made it out to be. True, it doesn’t change the fact that the Senate is now a 60-vote institution. But it does make the life of an obstructing minority much harder. Given the size of the Republican minority, to fill a day-long filibuster, every senator would have to be up and speaking for at least half an hour, and a critical mass of minority senators would have to be in the chamber at all times. Coordinating that kind of action among 45 senators who’ve got fundraisers and flights and out-of-town family and who usually don’t stay in Washington even for a full week at a time is no small task.
Votes for “motions to proceed” would no longer be subject to filibuster. This reduces opportunities for filibustering for bills where the majority party already has enough votes to pass the bill.
Harry Reid plans on changing the rules using a simple majority at the beginning of the next session.
Tis may not be all that is planned, but what is currently being discussed. Of course, Mitch McConnell is having a veritable break down over these changes and other GOP Senators are promising to shut down the Senate over this. As if they haven’t been doing this already. But it is worth noting that these changes don’t take away the GOP opportunities to obstruct legislation — it makes it harder to do AND lets Democrats at least get to voting on the legislation they have the votes for.
Personally, I don’t think that this is enough. McConnell’s invocation of Senator Byrd today is a way of trying to invoke the cloak of Senatorial tradition (with a man who guards that tradition pretty closely) and hoping that no one notices that McConnell and his crew have been at the forefront of smashing that tradition. The Senate has to find a way to work and as long as McConnell is bent on misusing all of that tradition, it is probably time to make the functioning of the Senate more important than the Senate’s traditions.