“If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it’s tonight,” Reid said. “These two young, fine Senators said it was time to change the rules, and we didn’t.”
“They were right,” he continued. “The rest of us were wrong, or most of us anyway.”
But the comments belied the lengths that Reid went to last year to prevent those rules changes.
After the 2010 election, Udall, Merkley and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced a resolution to eliminate Senators’ ability to block a bill from coming to the floor for debate. In exchange, both the minority and majority would be guaranteed the ability to offer three amendments each, provided the proposals were germane to the underlying bill. Currently, 60 votes are needed to beat back a filibuster, or invoke cloture, on bills, nominations and procedural motions, including motions to proceed. Under the Udall-Merkley- Harkin proposal, debate on motions to proceed would be limited to two hours.
The resolution would also attempt to reinstate the “talking filibuster” by forcing Members to stay on the floor if they object to a bill or nomination. If the Senate failed to produce 60 votes for cloture, the Senators who successfully filibustered would be required to hold the floor as long as the measure continued to be the pending business before the chamber.
Facing opposition from Senate leaders, the proposal failed to win the two-thirds needed to pass. Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) subsequently entered into a gentlemen’s agreement under which Reid would refrain from filing cloture and McConnell pledged to limit filibusters that prevent measures from even being debated. But the agreement was largely rendered moot last fall when a deal fell apart during Democrats’ attempts to pass an appropriations package.
Meanwhile, watchdog group Common Cause, on behalf of itself, Members of the House and students eligible for the DREAM Act, is filing suit against the Senate for requiring a supermajority to beat back filibusters.
The suit, which will be filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks a declaration that the number of votes needed to invoke cloture, or kill a filibuster, be reduced to a simple majority rather than the 60-vote supermajority required under current Senate rules. The lawsuit has an uphill battle, however, considering that the Constitution clearly states that each chamber “may determine the rules of its proceedings.”
If the court is not persuaded to deem the supermajority cloture hurdle as unconstitutional, the suit argues that the court declare unconstitutional the practice that the rules of the Senate carry over from Congress to Congress.
While the House approves its rules every Congress, “the Senate does not,” said Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause staff counsel. “The Senate considers itself a continuing body and says ‘the rules just apply.’”