The past two years has seen a drop in filibuster votes to a level a bit closer to Reid’s tenure as minority leader.
Republicans contend their actions are often prompted by Reid’s historically high use of a rare tactic that allows the majority leader to shut down any amendments from being offered. Faced with no way to alter legislation, Republicans regularly respond by filibustering the motion to begin debate.
They noted that Reid’s goal in recent years has been to protect Democrats’ endangered incumbents from voting on potentially damaging amendments, preferring that legislative fights end in a GOP-led filibuster rather than having incumbents cast votes that their opponents might highlight against them.
Making the matter even more arcane — yet more poisoned — is the means that Reid intends to use to change the rules. The chamber’s standing rules have been very clear that it is a “continuing body,” so its rules go on forever unless a two-thirds majority votes to change them.
Some senators and legal scholars from both parties have argued there is a brief window at the start of each new Congress in early January in which the Senate can alter rules by a simple majority vote, an argument that began in earnest in the 1950s and 1960s during filibusters of civil rights legislation.
However, no major rule change has ever been instituted with a unilateral vote by one party. The most recent effort to change the rules on a partisan vote came when McConnell was the No. 2 GOP leader and was supporting a bare-majority vote to impose a rule that would eliminate filibusters on then-President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
Then minority leader, Reid adamantly opposed the move and called his effort to thwart it his most important work since winning election in 1986.
Democrats labeled the Republican effort the “nuclear option” because they threatened a retaliatory fallout that would virtually shut down the chamber. That effort failed when a group of 14 Republicans and Democrats hatched out a compromise.
With the roles reversed, McConnell echoed Reid’s warnings of 2005, complaining that a lack of bipartisan negotiation on the issue would lead to more gridlock than voters had seen in recent years.
“Oh no, we’re going to do it on our own,” McConnell said, mocking Democrats. “I think it is a huge mistake, not only for the Senate. But it will impact obviously our short-term ability to come together and work on the really big problems.”