Can Harry Reid Kill the Filibuster?

He's got a new scheme to end it in January

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From 2001 to 2009, President George W. Bush was Democrats' nemesis. Now a Senate parliamentary procedure called the filibuster has taken his place as the new "George W. Bush." It's not hard to see why: though Democrats control the White House and have majorities in both houses of Congress, the filibuster enables Republicans to slow or altogether halt nearly any Democratic goal, deadlocking government. We've heard quite a few anti-filibuster fatwas issued in the last year: Bloggers want to kill the filibuster, liberals want to repeal the filibuster, Sen. Harkin wants to soften the filibuster, Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh wants to end the filibuster. But the anti-filibuster crowd has a high profile new fighter on its side: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged filibuster reform. Is he up to it?

  • How He'd Do It The Huffington Post's Sam Stein explains it would happen at the beginning of the next Congress in January 2011. "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."
  • Why That's Controversial Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias writes, "the issue has to do with the ambiguity over whether or not the Senate starts anew each time a new Senate is convened. To change the Senate's rules takes 67 votes. But one way of looking at it is that after each election you have a brand new Senate that needs to adopt a set of rules and can do so by majority vote. That's always been a controversial proposition, but there's precedent in terms of rulings from Nelson Rockefeller when he was VP and the filibuster was last reformed."
  • GOP Pushed Dems Too Far The Washington Post's Ezra Klein notes that Sen. Reid has "not traditionally been a friend of Senate reform" and "poured cold water" on past anti-filibuster attempts. But Republican filibuster "abuse," as Reid put it, may have pushed Reid and other Democrats past what they were willing to tolerate.
  • Dems Are Dreaming Conservative blogger Allahpundit insists that Democrats are unlikely to go through with it, as voters are already fed up with "the ruthless partisanship" in Congress. "[T]hey're going to start talking up some dicey new procedural strategy for next year -- when they'll be on the brink of being returned to the minority themselves in the next election cycle?"
  • Reid Takes Responsibility The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen suggests this is about Reid's fear of being blamed for the partisan gridlock imposed by filibuster abuses. "[I]t 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."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.