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Reid and McConnell Face Off on Filibusters

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
McConnell called the simple-majority maneuver, championed by a collection of mostly newer Democratic senators, a move “to break the rules to change the rules.”

As Reid sought to downplay the significance of the changes he supports on day-to-day work, his Republican sparring partner went to the other extreme, warning against the precedent-setting move to make changes with a simple-majority vote at the start of a new Congress using a procedural move known as the “constitutional option.”

Opponents of that move argue that the Senate is a “continuing body” because only one-third of the Senate is chosen in any given election, so rules of procedure carry over from Congress to Congress.

McConnell called the simple-majority maneuver, championed by a collection of mostly newer Democratic senators, a move “to break the rules to change the rules.”

Vice President Richard Nixon, as president of the Senate in 1957, advised that he believed one Congress could not be formally bound to the rules of a previous Congress.

Reid and other Democrats increasingly argue that Republican obstruction has forced the dramatic increase in filing of cloture petitions to limit debate.

Incoming Democratic senators are much more willing to change the rules with a simple-majority vote than some of their veteran and departed counterparts. For example, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., advocated for changes after the exchange between the leaders on Monday.

“From the very first days that I have been a member of this body, I have strongly believed that the filibuster needs to be ended or at least greatly modified so as to permit the business of this great chamber to go forward, and I believe that the new members who have come here have heard that message loud and clear from the American people,” he said.

That view stands in contrast to the man Blumenthal replaced, Democrat Christopher J. Dodd, who spent 36 years in Congress and used his farewell speech to caution against haste in rules changes.

“I can understand the temptation to change the rules that make the Senate so unique — and, simultaneously, so frustrating,” Dodd said in 2010. “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.”

Alan K. Ota contributed to this report.

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