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September 20, 2014

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Reid bickers with McConnell over filibuster

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky attend a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol building on July 11, 2012, in Washington.

Filibusters come up so often in the Senate these days that it’s hardly news when lawmakers get stuck in a procedural standoff.

But for the past two days now, Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell stuck in a standoff over procedure, at each others’ throats over whether the rules on filibusters ought to be rewritten.

Technically, the filibuster is a long-standing Senate rule that allows any member, or group of members, to stall legislation by talking it to death. Recently, however, it’s been wielded as a procedural bludgeon by the political minority to both kill legislation and wrest control of the process from the majority.

And Reid has said he wants to curtail it.

“This is a big issue about the future of this country and how this institution ought to be cooperating,” McConnell shot at Reid, charging that Reid wanted to amend the filibuster procedure as a bold-faced, but ultimately shortsighted way of aggrandizing power. “What I think we need is an attitude change ... we don’t need to have a perpetual election in this country. It’s time we oughta be building collegiality and relationships, not making incendiary moves.’’

“The election is over,” Reid retorted. “And the American people ... acknowledged without any question that the message we delivered is valid: the Senate is a dysfunctional body caused by the Republicans.”

The filibuster traces its origins back to 1806 when Aaron Burr proposed it as a way to prevent the Senate leader’s ability to close debate and force a vote on a bill.

In the decades that followed, senators began to exploit the loophole to prevent or at least delay certain pieces of legislation from coming to a vote. For the last century, Senate leaders have confronted the filibuster through “cloture” votes, which require a 60-vote supermajority to end the filibuster and proceed to a vote on the particular bill.

Despite the longevity of the practice, the Senate filibuster is simply a custom the Senate imposes on itself. The filibuster rule appears nowhere in the Constitution.

And that is why Reid appears determined next year to get rid of at least part of it.

Every year at the start of the Congress, the Senate and the House have to approve the new rules that will govern their business over the next two years. Under current Senate rules, any new rule change has to be approved by two-thirds of the Senators in attendance.

But there’s a way around that requirement. According to a 1892 Supreme Court decision, the Senate needs only a simple majority to pass its rules.

If Reid resorts to a simple majority vote to end the filibuster on motions to proceed, he’ll be exercising what’s come to be known as the “nuclear” option — so called because it will blow up the customary practice for the Senate going forward for all time.

That was exactly what McConnell was verbally flailing against Monday.

“Any time, on any whim, any majority leader wants to change the rules, 51 votes!” he said, invoking everything from the Golden Rule to accusing Reid of trying to make a power grab and breaking “the rules to change the rules because he’s had difficulty getting on bills.”

Reid insisted he is neither breaking the rules nor destroying the filibuster, just limiting its use.

But Reid wouldn’t dispute that difficulty he’s had in bringing up bills is prompting his move.

In his many public statements since the election, Reid has spoken on more or less the singular theme of compromise. The election was a mandate, Reid has said, and repeated again Monday, to work together.

But Republicans, he then charges, aren’t getting the message.

Reid’s evidence for issuing that charge: A running tally of 348 filibuster threats by Republicans since he’s been majority leader six years ago. That’s compared to only one former Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson faced when he as in charge.

Come the New Year, Reid made clear Monday, he plans to do what he can to limit its use.

Though it may seem anachronistic to bicker about such a procedural issue, concerns about the filibuster may not prove to be entirely out of place as Congress tries to hash out how to avoid the fiscal cliff.

If Congress cannot meet its Dec. 31 deadline, the filibuster discussion may end up preceding a final resolution on how to keep tax rates from rising, and sweeping cuts to the government from taking effect.

But there’s still five weeks until the deadline.

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  1. Notice that Mitch isn't wearing an American Flag lapel pin. Was he trying to imitate Obama or is he a closet socialist?

  2. Every time he opens his mouth, Reid the Red proves just how stupid he really is! Has he forgotten that not too long ago he and his fellow leftist leaning Dumbocrats were in the minority and relentlessly invoked filibusters to halt nearly any initiative George W. and the Republicrats proposed? Is he so stupid as to not realize if he does ram through the "nuclear option" that sometime in the future it will come back to haunt the Dumbocrats in similar fashion as did their instituting the "special prosecutor?" Reid the Red is not just a moron; he is disgustingly stupid!

  3. "A running tally of 348 filibuster threats by Republicans the past 6 years"

    Enough is enough! Time to change the rules. Go for it Harry! You have the votes to get it done. It would be appropriate for Elizabeth Warren to cast the deciding vote.

  4. Everytime McConnell appears on the television news, my cat runs over and swats at the screen.

  5. Jeff,

    Your correct! The actions by the Republicans was intentional. All done to create uncertainty, telling large and small business' the US government would be shut down the next 4 years. Why? Because they wanted President Obama out from day one!

  6. I agree with most of you. The way the current filibuster rule is misused, it has to be changed. As, we the people are being shortchanged.

  7. Reid bickers. End of story. Ya NOW he'd like to circumvent filibuster processes. How about some LEADERSHIP and DIRECTION. How about the Senate Majority Leader and POTUS presenting their PLAN on how to end the fiscal cliff? What SPENDING will they CUT to compromise with tax changes?

  8. McConnel and Boehner are NOT new to this. They can play the same game Harry has. What PLAN does Harry have? What spending will he CUT to compromise with tax changes? If and when he can present a PACKAGED PLAN that shows spending cuts at the pre-approved ratio of the sequestration legislation.....

  9. Rough: the race card is history. Those who haven't figured it out are ignored. So many of us are of mixed race, very mixed, that it just does not raise ANY blood pressure anywhere.

  10. I guess Reid has forgotten his fight with Bill Frist in 2005 when he insisted that even though Democrats were accused of abusing the filibuster, that it was 100% necessary and any Republican attempt to impose the "nuclear option" to end filibusters was an injustice.

    Some good Reid quotes from when he was defending filibusters against the "nuclear option":

    "The nuclear option is gone for our lifetime," Reid said. "I'm disappointed there are still these threats. Let's move on and do the Senate's business.

    "There will be filibusters of judges and of other things," Reid said. "That is what the Senate is all about."

    And my favorite:(in response to the Republican threat to use the "nuclear option" to end Senate filibusters)
    "If they, for whatever reason, decide to do this, it's not only wrong, they will rue the day they did it, because we will do whatever we can do to strike back. I know procedures around here. And I know that there will still be Senate business conducted. But I will, for lack of a better word, screw things up." -- Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

  11. Why are these men smiling? Pulled another one over on the American taxpayers?