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.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointedly raised the prospect of a stalled lame-duck session if Democratic leaders keep threatening to change the rules at the start of the new Congress during the final weeks of the old one.
“We have huge issues before us here at the end of the year, much of which will probably carry over into next year,” McConnell said. “It’s a time that we ought to be building collegiality and relationships and not making incendiary moves that are damaging to the institution and could have serious ramifications on our ability to work together here at the end of the year.”
The irate comment from the Kentucky Republican came while trading barbs Monday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., after a lengthy floor speech about chamber operations. Reid reiterated his plan to change the rules by a simple-majority vote at the start of the next Congress in an effort to make legislation move somewhat more quickly through the chamber.
In responding to McConnell, Reid invoked the name of a Senate legend, the late Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.
“I would suggest to everybody here, Sen. Byrd wouldn’t like what’s going on here, and he would work with us to get these rules changed,” Reid said on the floor.
“The filibuster is not part of the Constitution; it’s something we developed here to help get legislation passed,” Reid said. “Now, it’s being used to stop legislation from passing.
“We’re going to continue moving forward to make the Senate more efficient. Does that mean it will be really efficient? No, because we’re changing one aspect of the filibuster rule.”
The back-and-forth between McConnell and Reid shows how much every action and word in the Senate can have unexpected repercussions — even a threat of modifying the rules could hamper work on year-end business to avert scheduled spending cuts and tax increases.
The Senate has long been mired in a seemingly endless cycle of obstruction, disagreement and delay — for which Democrats and Republicans trade blame.
“I had hoped going into the lame-duck session we’d have an entirely different view of how to bring this place together and to begin to solve the problems,” McConnell said. “It’s a sad day for the Senate, and we will go forward as best we can under this extraordinary set of circumstances.”
Both party leaders fashion themselves as students of the Senate and defenders of the chamber’s prerogatives. In 2006, McConnell pushed a resolution through the Senate ensuring that Kentucky’s senior senator has the desk of 19th-century legislator Henry Clay.