Forget about bipartisanship; Harry Reid has decided there's no option that goes too far if it means diluting the influence of Republicans. The Senate majority leader plans to break with long-standing tradition in January by rewriting the chamber's rules to silence the Republican minority. It's a shortsighted maneuver, because it means Democrats will have no input in the legislative process when they find themselves out of power in the future.
The hostilities spilled into the open on Monday and Tuesday with a rare, heated series of floor debates between Mr. Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over filibuster reform. The Republican leader said on the floor Tuesday, "Here we are with this explosive nuclear option being thrown into the chamber at a time when we ought to be turning the election off and trying to come together to solve the biggest problem ... the fiscal cliff and the nation's seemingly hopeless deficit and debt situation."
Mr. Reid, leader of the least productive Senate session ever, claims his changes will make the body more "efficient." For the first time in history, the Democratic leader wants to change the rules with a simple majority vote instead of the currently required two-thirds supermajority. This is referred to as the "nuclear option" because it empowers the majority to alter at whim and without bipartisan support the way the Senate runs.
Doing this also makes it impossible for the minority to filibuster on a motion to proceed, which is a tactic Republicans have used to slow down a rush to final vote in order to force consideration of amendments to a bill. The GOP has been stymied in recent years by the Nevada Democrat's ruthless use of a parliamentary trick known as "filling the amendment tree" to deny the minority an opportunity to shape legislation before passage.
"There's a lot at stake here," explained Martin Gold, who counseled two former majority leaders, Howard Baker Jr. and Bill Frist. "This kind of majority power-grabbing tactic will not only affect the rights of minority-party senators but also the people they represent. Senators whose rights to amend and debate are under siege cannot serve constituents nearly as effectively as senators who are fully empowered."
Another of Mr. Reid's revisions would force senators to stay on the floor and keep speaking during a filibuster in the hope of physically wearing them down. It's a rather petty move, considering that the presiding officer has discretion to do this already. Currently, it takes three motions to go to conference, offering an opportunity to filibuster for at least a week. Mr. Reid wants to cut that to a single filibuster to take away the GOP's ability to leverage the outcome of major legislation.
There are plenty of ways to expedite Senate procedures without turning what once styled itself as the world's greatest deliberative body into a discount version of the House of Representatives. "No rules have to change to open up the Senate, make it more productive and have more robust debate," explained Mr. Gold, the senior counsel at Covington & Burling law firm. "What needs to change is human behavior. It's a simple concept: self-restraint."
The majority leader's belligerent strategems show no sign of restraint. To avoid further poisoning the already contentious atmosphere in the Senate, Mr. Reid should come to his senses and back down from launching the first strike.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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