Among Udall’s proposed changes are requiring Senators to maintain a filibuster by remaining physically present on the Senate floor, and putting an end to a process known as “secret holds.” Udall says his proposal would not effect the core longstanding requirement of 60 votes to end debate on a piece of legislation. Republicans plan to object to the rule changes, in part, because Udall’s allies hope to adopt them using the lower, 51-vote threshold. Alexander called the scheme “changing the rules by breaking the rules,” and suggested that by triggering this unprecedented rule change procedure, Democrats risked facing a “dramatic” response from Senate Republicans. “I think the Democrats called it ‘nuclear’ once,” he said.
Reid, meanwhile, faces dissention within his own ranks over how to proceed. Some Democratic members are leery about provoking Republicans, who they concede may seize control of the Senate in 2012. Democrats will be defending 13 more seats than Republicans in the next cycle. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who will be up for re-election next year, is urging her party to pursue “modest” reforms. To buy time, Reid is reportedly considering stretching the opening legislative “day” – which is when rule changes must occur – to extend several weeks. This would allow his own caucus to reach an agreement on how to proceed and could provide further opportunities to consult with Republicans. Alexander said such a maneuver might be unseemly, but not unprecedented.
The GOP, for its part, is not necessarily opposed to the substance of all the Democratic reform proposals. Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum said Republicans could support certain reforms, particularly abolishing “secret holds,” wherein individual Senators can singlehandedly block nominees or legislation anonymously and for no stated reason. “If you want to hold something up, you should stand up and do it,” Santorum said. “There may be some sticky situations [where a secret hold would make sense], but by and large, it’s an abused power more than a helpful one.” Alexander agreed and said he expected a move to ban the practice would attract bipartisan support.
Alexander cautioned Democrats that any rash action they may attempt, even if it succeeds in the short term, would haunt them when the tables are turned. He said divisive, partisan reforms would “surely guarantee that Republicans will try to do the same to Democrats in two years,” or whenever the GOP wins back the Senate. “Those who want to create a freight train running through the Senate today, as it does in the House, might think about whether they will want that freight train in two years if it is the Tea Party Express. “