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Mitch McConnell Warns Harry Reid Over Filibuster Changes

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today challenged his Democratic counterpart over his pledge to eliminate some filibusters, warning of unintended consequences.

The Kentucky Republican questioned recent statements by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about plans to change the rules to eliminate filibusters of motions to proceed, which must be adopted for the Senate to take up bills. Reid said in a recent radio interview that he would push the rules change if he is still the Majority Leader in January. Currently, motions to proceed can be filibustered and 60 votes are needed to overcome that blockade.

McConnell wanted rank-and-file Democrats listening to the floor exchange to consider what might happen if Republicans take control of the chamber after a rules change to allow for more simple-majority votes.

“Let’s assume we have a new president and I’m the Majority Leader next time and we’re operating at 51. I wonder how comforting that is to my friends on the other side,” McConnell said. “How does it make you feel about the security of Obamacare, for example?”

While parts of the 2010 health care law could be rescinded through the budget reconciliation process without 60 votes, the GOP-favored full repeal effort could not advance without rules changes.

Reid noted that he wants to maintain the ability of Senators to filibuster bills to keep them from passing but get rid of the current rules that essentially requires 60 votes to start the debate on most legislation.

“I’ve made it all very clear in all of my public statements about the need to get rid of the motion to proceed,” Reid said. “I’m not for getting rid of the filibuster rule. I’m convinced the best thing to do with the filibuster is have filibusters.”

Reid signaled, however, that he may be open to an effort from Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Tom Udall (N.M.) to require Senators to hold the floor during filibusters.

He criticized Republicans for wanting to offer an excessive number of extraneous amendments, citing an effort by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to curb foreign aid to Pakistan.

Without referencing the Kentucky Republican by name, Reid said Paul thinks he is a “better Secretary of State than Hillary [Rodham] Clinton.”

McConnell contends that Reid is too quick to use a procedural trick known as “filling the amendment tree” to keep Republicans from offering amendments when the Senate votes to proceed to bills.

Today’s sparring between the leaders over internal Senate operations appears to be laying the groundwork for weeks of stalemate, because the outcry from McConnell makes it all but impossible that Democratic-favored measures, such as an insourcing bill from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), will overcome the first cloture hurdle without an explicit amendment agreement.

Correction: 2:31 p.m.

A previous version of this article misstated where Reid made his remarks. They were made in a recent radio interview.

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