Sen. Dick Durbin says President Barack Obama's call for reform of the Senate filibuster rules is a difficult proposition to move forward.
The nominations issue has recently come to the forefront of Senate debate following a series of controversial recess appointments and in the face of a slow legislative session. Some say that while a rhetorical back-and-forth is happening between lawmakers of both parties in front of the cameras, a different fight is growing between the administration and business.
A GOP aide said that with the filing of lawsuits over appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the White House confrontation over recess appointments is now with jobs groups rather than with Senate Republicans. Pro-business groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business, filed the lawsuits earlier this month.
“Everybody knows President Obama wanted to pick a fight with Congress,” the aide said. “What he got instead was a fight with the nation’s jobs groups.”
The aide added that the White House proposal for requiring an up-or-down vote on nominees after 90 days is based on “a false argument” that only the minority party holds up nominees. Both sides use the nomination process as leverage with the White House. Recently, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) held up a nominee for the Court of Appeals.
“It can be used quietly, which makes it the perfect point of leverage,” the GOP aide said. “Both sides use the process to get leverage over a branch that has grabbed more and more power from the” legislative branch, which makes it unlikely that even Senate Democrats would go along with it.
Members tend to exploit the nomination process even more since Congress has taken a break from earmarks, which was another point of leverage, the aide noted.
But Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) say the process is more broken than ever before, which is what should prompt the consideration of reform.
“We just seem to have come to a point now where the Senate Republicans [say] that they’re going to approve no new judges,” Reid said Tuesday.
“It’s not working very well,” he said of the nominations process before adding, “We tried to do something on secret holds, but that hasn’t helped much at all.”
Reid’s last remarks underscore one of the other large obstacles in the way of procedural reform, which is who would champion it.
At the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, many Democrats in the 2006 class fought for filibuster reform and were not successful. Now, those same Democrats are facing tough re-election contests and hammering on rules changes might not be their most effective messaging option.
“I don’t see a real way that it happens,” one Senate aide said of reform. “It’s probably that same group of people [who would want to see change] and now half of them are up for re-election, so I don’t know that that’s an issue they want to talk about.”