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Filibuster reform needs 67 votes, Reid says


Harry Reid just put the kibosh on any attempts to change the filibuster that don't go through a 67-vote rule change process. That doesn't much surprise me: Democrats aren't in shape to spark a massive confrontation over minority rights. The people do not much like the Democrats right now, and trying to grab more power is not likely to be popular. That's why I continue to believe the best hope for reforming the filibuster is an agreement between the two parties that takes effect six or eight years into the future, when no one knows which party will initially benefit.

If we can't have a functional legislature now, maybe we can someday.

Photo credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

By Ezra Klein  |  February 11, 2010; 5:37 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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See, I knew something like this was coming when he smacked down Baucus.

Every time I start to have respect for the guy, BAM!

Posted by: adamiani | February 11, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Was he talking about changing it mid-term? I thought at the beginning of each session, you only need a majority to change the rules.

Posted by: SteveCA1 | February 11, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Well Reid won't be in the Senate next January when this is all decided, so his opinion means squat.

Funny how he loves being so powerless. You'd think, at his age, he'd want to shake things up and get things done.

Posted by: existenz | February 11, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Reid might just have turned the tide of the 2010 midterm election. He is also correct that Udall's proposal (that is, having the Vice President declare the Senate a non-continuing body in opposition to Supreme Court rulings) is unsound; more importantly, though, the fact that Reid has reiterated his previous position (when in 2005 he "fiercely defended the minority's right to filibuster and argued that the Senate was bound by its past rules until the supermajority acted to change them.") gives him considerable credibility.

The filibuster argument was one of the "arrogance" issues drawing negative attention and, now that it is at rest, Reid can better focus attention on issues of importance to the lives of citizen voters. Preservation of the filibuster might just be a huge step towards passage of a comprehensive health care reform bill.

Posted by: rmgregory | February 11, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Here's an idea for discouraging frivolous use of filibuster threats: a threat of filibuster from any Senator must include one of his or her fingers.

Posted by: billkarwin | February 11, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, isn't it still the case that Joe Biden, as President of the Senate, could announce next January that the Senate is not a standing body and so only 50+1 votes would be needed to scrap the Byrd rule?

Posted by: daw3 | February 11, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

A majority in the senate can at any time enact any self governing rule it wants and the supreme court can't do squat about it.

Posted by: pwkennedy | February 11, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

pwkennedy - you are wrong. the senate sets its rules with a majority at the beginning of a session, not "at any time."

Posted by: inkadu | February 11, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

There's zero they will come up with an "agreement" to change it in 5-6 years. The GOP loves the filebuster as much as the Dems when out of power.

Ezra: you're forgetting the important element of this piece. Harry will be irrelevant come the 112th United States Congress: he is going to lose his re-election.

There will be a new Senate Leader. Most likely a Dem, though the way the Dems are handling things it's entirely possible that they'll lose enough seats *and* Joe Liberman and/or Ben Nelson will flip parties that it will be a GOP Leader.

A new GOP leader won't care about the filibuster. Obama will veto whatever he doesn't like that gets through congress (under the small possibility that the GOP takes back both houses).

A new Dem leader *along with* the White House may have a completely different few of filibuster reform after:

* facing it for the balance of 2010; and

* looking into the abyss of having to deal with it in 2011-2012 being unable to get *anything* done as the country falls off the cliff and bounces up and down off the bottom several times like a Dead Cat

New Leadership will realize that the opening of the 112th Congress could be their *only* chance to change things, as another two years like 2009-2010 are shaping up to be will not only doom Obama to lose in 2012 but also the Dem party itself.

Frankly, I think we all know what's going to force the hand on the 112th Congress changing the rule:

The next SCOTUS nomination

Which will almost certainly happen in 2010 either for John Paul Stevens or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or both. A filibuster there, especially if Obama nominates someone to the left of the not exactly liberal Sotomayor, may be the final nail that pushes a non Harry Reid Dem Leadership team in January 2011 to kill off the filibuster for good.

This guy doesn't sound like he would want to lead the 112th Congress that saw the GOP filibuster everything in sight:

Not that he hasn't been willing to ponder using it himself in the past. But the notion of using the filibuster to drag the entire Senate to a halt on *everything* seems to cheese him off.

So what Harry says right now isn't relevant because in a year he won't be. Future Dem Senate Leadership needs to be the ones putting their heads together on how they're going to act come January, and whether they will have 50 Votes + Biden to make the change.


Posted by: toshiaki | February 11, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

After a steady stream of posts from Ezra saying that what is politcally possible trumps what is desirable, we get Ezra's forelorn hope that the Senators will agree NOW to change the unlimited debate (filibuster) rule for some time LATER.

Such an agreement would mean nothing. It could be changed at any time in the future by the then-sitting Senate. Congress can't bind future Congresses.

But what makes this politically possible now or later? Nothing. The GOP knows that the Dems have no backbone so the Dems won't require filibuster majorities (60 votes) to halt a GOP Senate from running wild - as they did under Bush with tax cuts and other spending (two wars!) that were not paid for in the budget, and added trillions of bucks to long term debt.

The real deficit here is Dem. backbone, and the GOP knows it. Why compromise in that situation?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | February 11, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, what are you talking about? "The people do not much like the Democrats right now, and trying to grab more power is not likely to be popular"?????
Think on what the Republicans have done for the past year and then on the fact that they WILL have a successful mid-term. Blowing up the Filibuster is the right thing to do. Passing Health Care is also the right thing to do... ugh, I don't even know what to say. Dumbest post I've ever seen of yours.

Posted by: SnowedIn1 | February 11, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Count me among those mystified by your calm acceptance of Reid's POV. You write post after post decrying the harm the R strategy is doing to the country (and to D hopes) ... but Reid shouldn't force a change because voters might not like it? Feh.

Posted by: SamPenrose | February 12, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

It's time for Harry Reid and the other dinosaurs who think the Senate is a house of lords to retire. They're living in the 19th century. We'd be better off with 50 Democrats with courage than the 60 we had earlier this year. Reid has been a very weak leader and his voters are not impressed. Bye Bye Harry.

Posted by: marvyT | February 12, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Is it bad that I'm slightly relieved Reid has a decent chance of losing his seat this year? Then it won't be a struggle to put in new leadership.

Posted by: burndtdan | February 12, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

No big surprise. This kind of ineptness is the reason Reid is going to lose his seat by a landslide. Unfortunately I doubt the Democrats would even be able to muster 50 votes to eliminate the filibuster next January (if they even have that many Senators left). They just have too many members who like the power the filibuster grants them to hijack legislation, blackmail the majority for pork and other concessions, and prevent legislation from passing that somebody somewhere might find objectionable.

Posted by: redwards95 | February 12, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

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