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Harry Reid Ready to Alter Filibuster Rules

Bill Clark/CQ Roll File Photo

The aide said the issue is not expected to get any play in Congressional campaigns but said that despite being an “internal Senate issue,” it is still important, as making the change would remove the minority’s leverage to influence and alter legislation. Going forward with the change would impinge on a Senator’s ability to effectively represent their constituents, the aide said.

The aide argued that when Senate Democratic leaders allow votes on GOP amendments, Republicans decline to filibuster and legislation moves, as was the case with a transportation bill, a farm bill, and a postal reform bill that cleared the chamber this year.

Republicans charge that Reid’s willingness to change the rules on a 51-vote threshold goes back on a promise he made to follow “the regular order” with regard to rules changes.

Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) previously entered into a gentlemen’s agreement whereby Republicans were supposed to allow bills to come to the floor without procedural barriers, and Reid was supposed to allow Republican amendments instead of using a maneuver known as “filling the amendment tree” to block the minority from proposing changes to a bill. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Now, after blocking Udall’s filibuster overhaul proposal earlier this Congress, Reid supports changing the filibuster rule.

“I think they were right, and I stick by that,” he said.

But not all Democrats want to change the rule.

Reid said on the floor that he has talked with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) about the issue and while Levin agrees it’s been a problem, he still needs some convincing.

Another senior Democrat, Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), said the filibuster is a useful rule that Democrats may not want to alter if they return to the minority.

“If the Republicans take over the Senate I think there is going to be a lot of bills, starting with the repeal of the health care act ... cuts of all kinds that we don’t want to have happen and that is where 60 votes can help you,” Rockefeller said.

But Reid said the tool is not being used as originally intended.

“The filibuster was devised — it’s not in the Constitution — it was devised to help legislation get passed,” the Majority Leader said. “That is the reason they changed the rules here to do that. Now it’s being used to stop legislation from passing and we have to change things because this place is becoming inoperative.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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