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New GOP Obstruction Threat May Boost Filibuster Reform

“I certainly share some of my colleagues’ anger with the repetitive use and abuse of the filibuster. Thus, I can understand the temptation to change the rules,” the Connecticut Democrat said Tuesday in his farewell on the Senate floor. “But whether such a temptation is motivated by a noble desire to speed up the legislative process, or by pure political expedience, I believe such changes would be unwise.”

Despite Dodd’s stern warning, some veterans have rallied to the cause. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a longtime advocate of filibuster reform, called Dodd’s speech “a nice trip down nostalgia lane.” Levin, whose defense authorization bill has been thwarted by threats of stalling tactics in the lame duck, is also a strong supporter.

Most Senate Democrats seem to agree that filibusters on procedural motions should be eliminated, but the sticking point is how to accomplish such a change. A two-thirds vote is required to limit debate on a proposed change in Senate rules, but some Members contend that new rules can be adopted at the start of the next Congress by a simple majority, a tactic dubbed the “Constitutional option.” More senior Senators caution that using the technique could set a dangerous precedent for changing Senate procedure.

“I include myself in the category of people who have thought a lot about it but have had to listen to a lot of compelling arguments on both sides,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said of the ongoing debate. “I’m one of those people still considering all the arguments, but I think we made a lot of progress but I can’t say we’ve come to any conclusion.”

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