Senate Democrats all share a common aim: Reforming the chamber's filibuster rules and eroding Republicans' ability to impede their legislative agenda. Achieving consensus on how to accomplish that goal, however, is proving challenging.
Every returning Democratic Senator signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in December signaling a desire to end “the current abuse of the rules by the minority” through rule changes. Republicans responded that the filibuster is a crucial arrow in the minority’s tactical quiver and asserted that the true abuse of Senate rules came in the form of Reid’s iron-fisted control of the agenda. Since 2007, Reid has “filled the amendment tree” on legislation – thus blocking any further amendments from being offered – on 44 occasions; more than the previous six majority leaders combined.
The finger pointing may come to a head later today when some Democrats are expected to introduce a resolution to amend the Senate rules with only 51 votes – far short of the customary two-thirds majority requirement. Republicans strongly oppose the idea. “The Senate needs to change its behavior, not to change its rules,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. He labeled Democrats’ rule change gambit “election nullification,” and quoted an Investor’s Business Daily editorial slamming the proposal: “The Senate Majority Leader has a plan to deal with Republican electoral success. When you lose the game, you simply change the rules. When you only have 53 votes, you lower the bar to 51.”
Reid is reportedly working to delay any final action on the rule changes, which will likely be introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) on Wednesday afternoon. Udall calls his resolution the “Constitutional option.” Republicans used the exact same term in 2005 to describe their proposal to eliminate extra-Constitutional judicial filibusters of Bush nominees – a plan that Democrats, then in the minority, branded the “nuclear option” and strenuously opposed. Unlike the 2005 kerfuffle, Udall’s plan would tamper not with nominee filibusters, but with traditional legislative ones. According to a senior Republican aide, Udall might kick off what could be a long and convoluted process by objecting to the continuation of the previous Senate rules and introducing several significant changes. The aide called the situation “fluid” and wondered if Democrats even have a finalized game plan.