Harry Reid promises filibuster reform if Dems win the election

July 17, 2012

In May, Harry Reid apologized for killing off a 2010 filibuster reform bill, admitting that the legislative procedure has been “abused, abused, and abused.” Reid has now gone a step farther: the Senate Majority Leader is now openly promising to pass filibuster reform in the beginning of the next Congress if Democrats manage to hold onto a simple majority in the Senate and if Obama is reelected.

Harry Reid
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Reid made the remarks on Friday to MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, a day after Democrats were unable to overcome the GOP threat of a filibuster on a small-business tax-cut bill, which failed on a 53-44 vote:

REID: They’re just trying to kill this bill, as they’ve  killed scores of other bills we've had because they're filibustering. They’re filibustering until we have to change the rules. We can’t go on like this anymore. I don’t want to get rid of the filibuster, but I have to tell you, I want to change the rules and make the filibuster meaningful. The filibuster is not part of our constitution, it came about as a result of our wanting to get legislation passed, and now it’s being used to stop legislation from passing.

SCHULTZ: But you’d change the rules…

REID: Oh, we could have done it in the last Congress. But I got on the Senate floor and said that I made a mistake and  I should have helped with that. It can be done if Obama is re-elected, and I can still do it if I have a majority, we can do it with a simple majority at the beginning of the next Congress.

SCHULTZ: Think the President will go along with that?

REID: You damn betcha.

A bit later in the interview, Reid reiterated his promise:

SCHULTZ: Would you make that as a commitment if Barack Obama were reelected and the Democrats keep the Senate?

REID: Yes. I don’t know how many people watch C-Span on any given day, but I’ve said so right before everybody there, that’s what I would do.

Reid’s remarks have heartened filibuster-reform advocates who supported the 2010 Merkley-Udall-Harkin bill, sponsored mostly by Senate Democratic freshmen. Fix the Senate Now — a progressive coalition including the Communications Workers of America, the Sierra Club, and Common Cause — is reconvening this week in an attempt to revive the issue.

“We’ve remained frustrated with the Republicans’ real abuse of the Senate rules,” says Shane Larson, CWA’s legislative director. He describes the group as “very, very pleased” with Reid’s most recent remarks on the issue. “He made it clear that he would do it, and that it could be done on the first day with a simple majority. It goes much farther than what he stated on the floor in May,” Larson added.

Update: Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell, asks whether Harry Reid would still push for filibuster reform if Democrats lost their majority. "We're always curious if those who want to limit the rights if the minority are willing to live by the same rules they're calling for now," he tells me. "Will they refuse the filibuster?"

Reid's office denies that he would have a change of heart if Democrats were in the minority. "He'd still advocate for his position, he just wouldn't be in a position to do anything about it unless a bunch of Republicans suddenly have a change of heart," says Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson. "His position won't change. He's convinced of the need for change."

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Brad Plumer | July 17, 2012