Continued from page 1

Mr. Reid retorted that he knows the filibuster rule better than any other member in history, except for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat whose mastery of the chamber was unchallenged.

Mr. Reid said he thinks that Byrd would have worked with him on the rules change.

Two years ago, Mr. Reid resisted these kinds of rules changes, arguing that minority-party rights were too important to sacrifice for expediency. Instead, he reached a gentleman’s agreement with Mr. McConnell: He would allow more amendments to be debated if Mr. McConnell would agree to stop some of the GOP filibusters.

But that agreement crumbled, with each side blaming the other, and Mr. Reid now says he probably made a mistake in not pushing the changes back then.

Mr. Reid is also being pulled by a number of Democratic senators who came from the House, where the majority party has stiffer control and the minority has few options for affecting legislation. After watching the Senate bog down on bill after bill, those Democrats concluded the only way to clear a legislative path was to cut down on the obstructive tools senators have.

Cutting back on filibusters would not eliminate minority obstructions.

On Monday, Republicans blocked a bill to give sportsmen more access to federal lands by using a parliamentary budget maneuver that, like the filibuster, requires a 60-vote threshold.

The filibuster is not part of the Constitution. Rather, it is a technique used to take advantage of the Senate’s tradition of unlimited debate.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, there was no way to cut off a debate. In 1917, senators voted to impose a limit, but only if two-thirds of them voted to do so, leading to marathon floor sessions when the majority tried to break the minority’s will.

It was a relatively rare technique, used only about once a year for the first five decades.

In 1975, senators reduced the threshold needed to end debate to a three-fifths vote, but put the burden on the majority to muster that support. That ended the marathon sessions and ushered in the era of “drive-by filibuster,” where the minority can more easily block action.

Now, it’s common for senators to hold 50 or more filibuster votes a year.

Democrats tested the limits of filibustering last decade when they blocked many of President George W. Bush’s appeals court nominees, leading Republicans to threaten to change the rules by a simple majority vote — exactly what they now accuse Mr. Reid of trying to do.

Back then, a bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers agreed to block the rules change, but also agreed to end some of the filibusters against judges.

No such compromise is in the works this time, chiefly because a single senator can force the kind of filibuster votes Mr. Reid is seeking to scuttle.

Story Continues →