- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s push to curtail use of the filibuster has picked up traction, even among many of the chamber’s senior Democrats who, while generally the most protective of Senate traditions, say Republicans have taken obstruction to unprecedented levels.

Mr. Reid’s vow to change the rules at the beginning of the next Congress, using an opening-day procedure when the rules can be rewritten by a majority vote, has turned into a major fight in the Senate this week, with Republicans saying he is gutting time-tested rules of the chamber to achieve political gain.

It’s not clear whether Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, has enough support from within his own caucus to make the change. “We’re working on it,” chief vote-counter Sen. Richard J. Durbin told The Washington Times on Tuesday — but he has made substantial headway even with his party’s senior members.

“The Republicans have made the Senate dysfunctional, and I have asked my caucus to support simple changes,” Mr. Reid said.

Senators have multiple chances to filibuster a bill — first before it comes to the floor and again before it passes the chamber. The burden is on the majority to muster 60 votes to end a filibuster.

Mr. Reid is proposing eliminating that first chance at a filibuster, which would mean just a simple majority would be required to bring legislation to the floor, and he is proposing that senators who want to block legislation should have to take to the floor and speak. That also could discourage some filibusters.

Democrats will hold a 55-45 majority next year, including a number of young lawmakers eager to change the filibuster rules. But even long-serving Democrats who have served in the minority, where the filibuster is the key tool, are warming to the idea of changing it.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat in his fourth term, said the changes would bring accountability to filibusters.

“The idea that you have to actually stand there and be personally accountable makes sense to me,” he said.

Meanwhile Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who won her fifth term this month, said legislation that follows regular rules shouldn’t be filibustered before it even gets to the floor.

“I think if something comes out of committee and goes to the floor, it ought to have a chance to be discussed, not to have to go through cloture just to have a debate on the floor of the United States Senate,” she said.

“We’re here to debate, and we’re here to vote.”

Sen. Jack Reed likewise seemed receptive to the idea of filibuster reform, but the third-term Rhode Island Democrat stopped short of endorsing Mr. Reid’s move.

“I think he’s made a very serious proposal, and it has to be considered,” Mr. Reed told The Times. “I am looking very carefully at it, because [it’s] one of these very serious issues that has to be considered.”

Republicans object to Mr. Reid’s plan on two counts. They say he is curtailing minority rights and that in using the first-day rules-change procedure, he is breaking with tradition, in which most major rules changes take a two-thirds vote.

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