The Republican Party’s abuse of the filibuster has made the 112th Congress one of the least productive in U.S. history. The Democrats, without anything close to a 60-seat, filibuster-proof supermajority, simply can’t get much done.
Now, Senate Dems essentially want to change the rules so the Republicans have less ammunition to stall legislative business. But while filibuster reform would ease gridlock, it could also hurt the Dems in the future when they inevitably become the minority party again some day. Still, in the long run, making it easier to pass legislation is likely to favor the party that takes a more activist approach to government: the Democrats.
Here are five signs that change is likely on the way.
1. Harry Reid says so
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is making a big push to change the rules. He wants to prohibit filibusters at the start of debates, shorten the time required to break a filibuster, and mandate that whoever is filibustering must actually speak on the floor. On Tuesday, Reid said the GOP has made the Senate “dysfunctional” and that “I have asked my caucus to support simple changes.”
2. A “nuclear option” is on the table
Some lawmakers are also reportedly considering a “nuclear option” that would call for a simple majority, or 51 votes, to change the Senate rules in January. Now, two-thirds, or 67 votes are required. Under the rules, the Senate can, on the first day of a new session, change its rules by a majority vote. Of course, doing so might set a worrying precedent that Dems would come to regret.
3. McConnell opened a (tiny) window
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked his party to oppose any changes, accusing Reid of breaking “the rules to change the rules.” He did say, however, that the right way to go about change is for both Democrats and Republicans to sit down to reach a deal for reform (and not the so-called nuclear option)
4. Incoming Dem senators want the change
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who is spearheading the push, won promises during the campaign from Democratic Senate candidates to support reform. That includes six who won: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
5. It could benefit the Republicans in the future.
“Republicans might want to think about getting on the train,” writes MSNBC policy analyst Ezra Klein for Bloomberg. “Though they’ve mucked up opportunities to take over the Senate in 2010 and 2012, they have another opportunity in 2014, when Democrats will have 20 seats up for re-election and Republicans will be defending only 13. If the filibuster ends now, there’s a real chance that the first party to benefit from a reformed Washington would be the Republicans.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and the New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman discussed the latest developments on filibuster reform on Tuesday’s Hardball. Watch the video above.