- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2011

Senate Democrats said Thursday they will continue to seek Republican cooperation on proposed rule changes to make it tougher for the minority party to use filibusters and other procedural tactics to block majority bills.

But with Republicans staunchly opposed to tinkering with the filibuster, which they say is among the only tools they have to stop legislation they oppose, Democrats say they’re prepared to forge ahead alone to reform the system.

“The rules have been abused” by Republicans, said House Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “We hope that the Republicans see the light of day and are willing to work with us. If not, we’ll have to do something on our own.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who met Wednesday with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to try to hash out a compromise over the proposed rule changes, said he believes a bipartisan agreement is possible.

“I would delude anyone to say we’re there, but we’ve had good discussions,” Mr. Schumer said. “At the same time, we’re making the point clear that there are certain things that … it would seem are beyond dispute.”

“So we’re working on two paths: One, to build support for the principles [Democrats] believe in, and second, to try and work out a compromise with the Republicans if we can. That would be our preference.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said his party isn’t eager to change rules he doesn’t see as broken.

“We’re willing to discuss it,” he said. “But I think anything that begins to move the Senate into the direction of becoming of the House of Representatives would be inappropriate, and we would fight that.”

A filibuster - a catchall term for delaying or blocking a majority vote on a bill by lengthy debate or other procedure - takes 60 votes to overcome and to proceed to a final vote. That means as few as 41 minority members can block legislation. The Senate now includes 47 Republicans.

The filibuster process doesn’t exist in the House, where simple majorities rule.

Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, has proposed legislation to end the minority party’s right to filibuster the start of debate on a bill. Senators could still attempt to block final passage of a bill under his plan.

Senators who filibuster - unlike now - would be required to hold the floor with speeches in a style similarly used by actor Jimmy Stewart in the classic 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Mr. Udall’s measure also calls for an end to the practice that allows a single senator to place a “secret hold” on measures - another blocking tactic routinely employed by the minority party.

As a compromise to Republicans, Mr. Udall’s plan would guarantee the minority the right to offer amendments to bills.

Mr. McConnell accused Democrats of trying to unfairly change Senate rules in order to strengthen their thin 53-47 majority after the majority lost six seats in the November congressional elections.

“We saw the lengths they went to last year to jam through a partisan agenda with no votes to spare,” he said. “Now their reaction to having had a bad election is to change the rules.”

Mr. Schumer said a possible compromise could be to reach a handshake agreement without formally changing written filibuster rules.

Mr. Reid on Wednesday evoked a rare procedural rule that officially keeps the legislative day open until the Senate comes back from recess Jan. 25. The move will allow for rule changes with the approval of a simple majority of the 100-member chamber instead of the usual two-thirds vote.

The tactic only can be used on the first day of a new Congress and will buy filibuster-reform supporters time to work out details and woo supporters.

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