Here’s a fairly remarkable colloquy between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor. McConnell was perturbed by the suggestion that Reid would pursue filibuster reform if he was still in charge of the Senate in January 2013. This is the key set of statements from Reid on the Ed Schultz Show:
REID: 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.
McConnell, who’s entire career since 2007 has been predicated on denying the Senate an up-or-down vote on hundreds of pieces of legislation, didn’t like the idea. So he took to the Senate floor to engage his colleague. (Excuse the ALL CAPS from the excerpt below, but that was how I could access the rush transcript.)
So McConnell challenged Reid on this interview Tim Russert-style, with some previous comments from January 2011, after Reid and McConnell reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” on obstructionism that derailed the last filibuster reform effort.
MR. McCONNELL: AT THAT TIME MY FRIEND THE MAJORITY LEADER SAID I AGREE THAT THE PROPER WAY TO CHANGE NATIONAL SENATE RULES IS THROUGH THE PROCEDURES ESTABLISHED IN THOSE RULES AND I WILL OPPOSE ANY EFFORT IN THIS CONGRESS OR THE NEXT — OR THE NEXT — TO CHANGE THE SENATE’S RULES OTHER THAN THROUGH THE REGULAR ORDER. SO MY FIRST QUESTION OF MY FRIEND THE MAJORITY LEADER IS, IS THAT STATEMENT NO LONGER OPERATIVE?
Reid responded that he said a few months ago he was wrong in that assessment, basically because Republicans broke that gentlemen’s agreement and continued to filibuster everything in sight. In addition, what Reid is proposing would actually be conducted under the regular order, with the window of time used to set the new rules for the Senate in the beginning of a new Congress used as the time to make the changes. Reid added that he discussed this last night with Carl Levin, who was staunchly against changing the filibuster rules last session, and he even agreed that ending the filibuster on the motion to proceed – so that the minority gets two filibuster opportunities for every bill – was appropriate.
MR. REID: I WAS WILLING TO GO ALONG WITH THE TRADITIONAL VIEW, LET’S NOT ROCK THE BOAT HERE. THAT WAS UNDER THE HOPE AND I THOUGHT THE ASSURANCE OF MY REPUBLICAN COLLEAGUES THAT THEY WOULD NOT HAVE THESE CONTINUE WITH NONSENSICAL MOTIONS TO PROCEED, FILIBUSTER, TAKING — THROUGH THAT FINALLY ON A PIECE OF LEGISLATION AND I SAID IN THE SENATE A FEW MONTHS AGO THAT I WAS WRONG. IT’S HARD TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT YOU’RE WRONG. IT’S DIFFICULT FOR ANY OF US TO DO. ESPECIALLY IN FRONT OF SO MANY PEOPLE. BUT I SAID THAT I THINK (MERKLEY AND UDALL) WERE RIGHT AND I WAS WRONG. AND I STICK BY THAT. I THINK WHAT HAS HAPPENED THE LAST FEW YEARS OF CHANGING THE BASIC RULES OF THIS SENATE WHERE WE HAVE NOT 50 VOTES TO PASS SOMETHING BUT TAKES 60 ON EVERYTHING, I THINK THAT’S WRONG.
McConnell replied by dissembling that Reid would “not follow the regular order to change the rules of the Senate.” He then asked why Democrats haven’t passed a budget, which they could do with 51 votes under current rules. Reid answered that the Senate already has passed a budget resolution, from August of last year, that sets spending levels for the next 10 years. McConnell moved on to appropriations; why haven’t they been passed. Reid replied that House Republicans reneged on the budget agreement and gone below the spending levels and added riders, etc.
So this devolved into partisan rancor, highlighted most notably when McConnell called Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, the centrist mandarins whose notable op-ed accused Republicans of obstructionism, as “ultra-liberals.” But the larger point here is that Reid defended his vow to change the Senate rules on the floor, and pretty easily parried McConnell’s protests. If Democrats hold the Senate – a big if – I think we can predict that there are going to be several changes to the rules, at the very least an end to the filibuster of the motion to proceed.