The Senate just took a big step towards filibuster reform

at 01:22 PM ET, 05/11/2012


(Brendan Smialowski - GETTY IMAGES)
In 2010, there was an effort -- led mostly by freshmen Democratic senators like Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley -- to reform the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid squelched their campaign. Last night, he apologized to them on the Senate floor:

If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it’s tonight. These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate,and we didn’t. And they were right. The rest of us were wrong -- or most of us, anyway. What a shame...

Mr. President, I am finished here, but I just want to say again, for those that are listening here or watching, Senator Udall and Senator Merkley want to do something to change the rules regarding filibuster. If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rule, because it’s been abused, abused, and abused.

Reid’s comments came after Republicans filibustered his attempt to move a House-passed compromise reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. But the proximate cause of Reid’s ire hardly matters. The point is that he’s concluded he was wrong to oppose filibuster reform when Democrats had the chance.

Election wonks I know think that if President Obama wins re-election, Democrats have even odds -- and maybe even a bit better -- of retaining control of the Senate. Their margin will be slim. But a slim margin is all they’ll need for filibuster reform if they follow the Merkley/Udall plan, which uses a process called “the Constitutional option” to change the rules with 51 votes. More on that here.

Consider, though, what this means if Republicans retake the Senate. The leader of the Senate Democrats appears to have endorsed some version of filibuster reform. That doesn’t make filibuster reform an inevitability. But it does make it likelier. And wouldn’t Republicans prefer it happen on their watch than when the Democrats control the institution? Probably.

Earlier this week, I wrote that we were seeing “the outlines of a necessary systemic crisis leading to an overdue set of procedural reforms in the Senate.” My point was that both parties are becoming more and more intent on changing the Senate’s rules, and that suggests we’re only one Senate crisis away from one party or the other actually following through on it. That post is looking pretty good right now.

 
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