Today’s news on filibuster reform is a story (by Alexander Bolton in the Hill) that so far, Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) doesn’t have the votes for changing the Senate using a simple majority procedure (via Plum Line).
It’s not clear, however, exactly where the problems lie. Some of the fence-sitting senators seem to object to the procedure that Reid may use to get reform done; Carl Levin (Mich.) explicitly calls that road to reform “dubious.” Others, however, appear to be more concerned about the substantive changes themselves; Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) appears to support eliminating filibusters on the motion to proceed to a bill, but not the attempt to force talking filibusters.
One of the real questions this brings up is whether, if faced with a majority-imposed reform, Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and the other Republicans would seek a compromise that they could then support using the two-thirds standard set in the Senate rules. On the one hand, McConnell could have significant input into the rules changes, perhaps securing more protection for the ability of the minority to offer amendments in exchange for giving up some of the pure stalling techniques currently available. On the other hand, McConnell might prefer to lose a partisan battle – thus giving him an excuse to impose his own set of rules when Republicans return to majority status.
The problem for Harry Reid and the reformers is that their immediate strategy depends a lot on whether compromise is ultimately possible.
If it is, then the best path right now is to bluff as hard as possible – to convince Republicans that majority-imposed reform is a done deal and that the specific changes adopted would be terrible for Republicans. Democrats probably don’t want to go much beyond their own ideal point (and very few Democrats really want to do away with the filibuster altogether), but the trick for Reid is to get the Levins and Feinsteins of his caucus to get on board as publicly as possible in order to trigger a Republican impulse to deal.
If, however, McConnell would rather lose than cut a deal, then the task for Reid and the reformers is different. The key negotiations will be between reformers and reluctant Democrats, not between reformers and Republicans. So the Democratic “position” will become the Senate rules, and that means they have to get it right the first time.
Which is it? I have no idea. There are conflicting incentives here, both for Republicans in general and for McConnell in particular.
But the two possibilities should yield different outcomes, because the interests and preferences of the reluctant Democrats might be very different than the interests and preferences of deal-seeking Republicans. So there might be a lot riding on which it is – and a lot riding on whether the reformers read the situation correctly.