Byrd Cautions Against Filibuster Reforms

Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:24pm

Updated: 2 p.m.

Sen. Robert Byrd, the chamber’s longest-serving Member, threw cold water on the idea of reforming filibuster rules Wednesday, saying “current Senate rules provide the means to break a filibuster.”

While the West Virginia Democrat said he shared “the profound frustration of my constituents and colleagues” who have grown discouraged with the Senate’s partisan procedural fights, he cautioned against making any rules changes by a simple majority vote at the beginning of the next session.

“Over the years, I have proposed a variety of improvements to Senate rules to achieve a more sensible balance allowing the majority to function while still protecting minority rights,” said Byrd, the President Pro Tem.

Byrd said he would support changing filibuster rules on motions to proceed, a reform Democratic Senators and aides say has a more likely chance of seeing action.

“For example, I have supported eliminating debate on the motion to proceed to a matter (except for changes to Senate rules) or limiting debate to a reasonable time on such motions, with Senators retaining the right to unlimited debate on the matter once before the Senate,” he said.

Rules and Administration Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) presided over a hearing Wednesday examining how the Senate might enact rules changes through a simple majority vote, rather than by winning over two-thirds of the chamber. But Byrd, who had stints serving as Majority Leader, said filibusters more easily are stemmed using other procedural means.

“The committee must, however, jealously guard against efforts to change or reinterpret the Senate rules by a simple majority,” Byrd said.

“Forceful confrontation to a threat to filibuster is undoubtedly the antidote to the malady,” he added. “Most recently, Senate Majority Leader [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] announced that the Senate would stay in session around the clock and take all procedural steps necessary to bring financial reform legislation before the Senate. As preparations were made and cots rolled out, a deal was struck within hours and the threat of filibuster was withdrawn.”

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who in 1975 while he was a Democratic Senator from Minnesota steered a rules change that lowered the number of votes needed to break a filibuster from 67 to 60, suggested to the panel that the Senate again lower that threshold next year with the approval of just 51 Members.

Freshman and sophomore Democrats have been forcefully pushing leadership to take up the issue of filibuster reform, making the case that Republicans have abused the procedural tool and held up scores of noncontroversial nominees.