The other day, Harry Reid thrilled a lot of people who’d like to see the Senate reformed by declaring that the time has come to reform the filibuster. Ezra Klein says the move means that filibuster reform has taken another big step towards reality, partly because the Dem leader ’s proclamation means it might be more likely that Republicans, too, would think seriously about reforming the filibuster if they take control of the Senate.
Jonathan Bernstein, however, makes another interesting point: If Reid is serious about reforming the filibuster, why wait until the start of the next session, in January of 2013?
It’s good to see Reid starting to fight back, but it’s not enough. The next step for him shouldn’t be waiting until January. The next step, in my view, should be an ultimatum that if Republicans don’t allow timely votes on every executive branch nomination and at least every Federal district court nomination that he’ll go nuclear sometime this summer.
The idea here would be to change or eliminate the filibuster through a rules change that requires a simple majority vote. There appears to be some dispute over whether this would have to be done at the start of a given session; some academics who have looked at the question have concluded that the rules can be changed by a simple majority vote at any time. As in: this summer.
The argument in favor of this is that there's no reason to wait any longer. Observers like Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have argued that the GOP has turned the filibuster into a “routine weapon of dysfunction” that has pretty much been employed to achieve the goal of government dysfunction for its own sake. Republicans may be in control of the Senate in nine months, so why not pull the trigger in hopes of at least getting some federal district court nominations through? Something will have to give eventually.
I happen to think there’s some grounds for questioning whether Reid really is serious about making any dramatic reforms. If you look at the original comments he made the other day, they seem rooted in spontaneous frustration; it’s hard to know if they signal serious intent. And we still don’t know what specific proposals Reid would support. But if people want to gauge Reid’s level of seriousness, a good place to start might be to find out whether he’s prepared to threaten to pull the trigger sooner, rather than later.