The McConnell-Reid Filibuster Compromise

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have reached a compromise on filibuster reform, an issue Bill tackled on last weekend’s episode of Moyers & Company. The deal is reflective of a December proposal by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), not the tougher reform called for by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM).

Talking Points Memo reports:

After a caucus meeting, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters that there’s overwhelming support for the agreement among Democrats, despite the protestations of those who wanted more sweeping reforms.

“That’s how this world works. People start aspiring at very high levels, then you get a negotiation, then you reach something called compromise,” he said. “There’s a very positive feeling among the people in our caucus. But the fact that the two leaders have been able to work it out together is great for the Senate.”

Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

During the 112th Congress, the Senate was historically ineffective to the point of inertia, passing only 2.8 percent of bills introduced. This was in part due to the Senate’s current filibuster rules, which allow senators to anonymously hold up legislation they oppose. To overcome a filibuster, proponents of any legislation need to gather a 60-vote supermajority for a cloture vote — a task that has proved very difficult for the Democratic majority (53-47).

Far-right Republicans have used the complicated filibuster procedural rules to great effect. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), for example, has blocked or delayed hundreds of popular bills because, in his opinion, they called for wasteful spending.

With Senate Democrats leading the charge, the November election and the start of the 113th Congress presented an opportunity to reform filibuster rules. The compromise rising from that effort removes the need for a 60-vote supermajority to proceed to debate on a bill — if the majority party offers the minority party two amendments. According to The New Republic, the procedural change is a “political win for the Republicans, who hope to force vulnerable incumbent Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014 into taking tough stances on controversial issues.” Another change limits debate time for minor presidential appointees and district court nominations, two steps that might fix a nomination system that in recent years has fallen apart. Nominees to the Supreme Court, Circuit Court and cabinet-level positions were not included in the rule change.

But senators will still be able to filibuster a bill without being present on the Senate floor — the infamous “silent” filibuster — a practice many reformers hoped to abolish. Nor does the compromise include a Merkley-Udall proposal to “shift the burden” to the minority party, requiring 41 votes to keep a filibuster going rather than the current 60 votes to end one. What’s more, many of the new rules will expire in two years.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America — and one of Bill’s guests last weekend on Moyers & Company — helped lead the push for reform. In a statement yesterday, he said the compromise did not bode well for the new Senate.

For members of our union, and progressives throughout the nation, the failure to enact substantial reform of the Senate rules almost guarantees that for two more years, there will not be effective debate, discussion or voting on even the critical issues that the Obama Administration has outlined.

For years, the filibuster has been an important part of Senate procedure, but senators with a minority opinion have not had to speak for hours to defend their position, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style, since 1975, when the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster through cloture was lowered from 67 to 60. In return, the minority party was allowed to filibuster without saying a word.

The timidity of yesterday’s reforms reflects a fear among many Democrats that, should Republicans regain the Senate majority they lost in 2007, Democrats will need the filibuster to block their opponents’ agenda. With the limited reforms of the McConnell-Reid compromise, future minorities will still be able to use the same gridlock-inducing measures that Republicans have for the last four years.

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  • Karl Bronn

    What a shame that Senator Reid did not do what I have to believe most of his constituents wanted…substantive filibuster reform! How disappointing.

  • Donna Bergman

    So it’s going to be the same old way as the last four years! This is INTOLERABLE!!! this means that no good and helpful legislation will be passed to help the economy or the jobs market!!!!! How long are the middle class and the poor supposed to
    wait until there’s some REAL progress made to move our nation forward to where the middle class and the poor see some relief from high unemployment and the creation of millions of new jobs???? There is a jobs bill that sitting there in the capital somewhere, but the damn TeaPublicans refuse to vote on it!!! They don’t give a damn because they’re getting a huge salary and they make sure they get paid first! I wish they could walk in the shoes of the people who have been out of work for a while. They need to be taught a lesson in human compassion!!!!

  • Elsa in California.

    What a shame, no spine, not surptising!

  • Wicasta Lovelace

    The problem here is that the Democrats were bluffing all along. Not a one of them believed in the rules they were hoping to push through, because they knew damned well that the very same thing filibuster abuses the GOP were guilty of had served the Democrats well in the past. If they’d wanted meaningful reform, they wouldn’t have been afraid to have to stand in front of Congress in the future and talk to support their own bills when the Republicans are back in the majority. Cowards, all of them.

  • Ray Kelley

    I think Harry is still afraid of the possibility of the election 2 years from now resulting in a Republican Senate. Probably because there is still the fear that they can’t get the progressives out to vote as easily in off years as the Republicans get their base out.

  • GranmaMac

    How could Senator Reid and the Democrats just buckle again? Didn’t we (progressive voters) just volunteer countless months, weeks, days & hours and every extra dollar supporting Democrats during the recent election? The filibuster capitulation is a ‘slap in the face’ to every decent honest voting Democrat. Reid and the Democrats should have stood their ground and fought the good fight, until every republican ran into the street like their hair was on fire. DISGUSTED with the entire motley push-over bunch.

  • Cheryl K

    I wanted the Filibuster Gutted :( Cheating is the only way the bully’s will win!

  • Cheryl K

    Did they put a roll of cash in his had? I don’t understand.

  • Cheryl K

    Yeah I don’t understand how they can hold one card to dismiss something. It wouldn’t work in a poker game and it doesn’t work gambling what is at stake.

  • Cheryl K

    Until there is no middle ground :(

  • humblemex

    The Democrats are spineless wimps who completely disgust me. “Compromise” is an unknown word to Republicans but the Dems are ready anytime, even when they’re holding that Royal Flush. Look for more of the same obstruction we saw for the last four years. When are we going to get a third party with integrity and guts?

  • Anonymous

    Combine this w the chronic enabling of the Republicans, as performed by Obama’s DCCC, & will anyone be suprised that 2014 repeats 2010?

  • gdp1

    Reid:…Profile in Courage…Lance Armstrong or Manti Teo woulda done the right thing, but not this COWARD….I hope his flesh rots from his bones…..soon….I do 21 months in Vietnam only to have to endure a corruption so deep, that it revulses all but 53 Americans ………….’dem dimwitted Dems….They make Lance Armstrong look like Lancelot….they make Manti Teo look like Einstein….they will rue this day ’til the day ‘de die….idiocy,cowardice….thy name is Reid…

  • gdp1

    …on second thought, maybe there IS a case to be made for assault rifles….

  • amberdreams

    dems got up on the stupid side of the bed again

  • sunflower

    And the progressives continue to get slapped in the face because they continue to vote these neo-liberals into power. If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always gotten as the saying goes. I voted for Jill Stein and I am tired of all the whining from progressives who continue to vote Democratic and seemed so shocked and disappointed when they get crapped on once again.

  • Rick Montgomery

    They can’t get the progressives out because they do nothing to engender support from progressives. If they’d show some spine for a change, they could energize their base. What they fear more than a Republican majority is losing their corporate donors. Both parties are bought, and we won’t get change until we get the money out of politics.

  • Michael Garrity

    Obviously political expediency trumps doing what is right and proper and for the Dems to cave on this issue by not changing the rules on the filibuster, shows that they are gutless wonders who are only interested in political gamesmanship just like the Republicans—a Pox upon them one and all!!!

  • Anonymous

    I am beyond disappointed. I really thought that they would actually take a step. Once again, I have shown myself to be to hopeful. Never underestimate the lack of courage that these jokers exhibit.

  • Valerie

    “The timidity of yesterday’s reforms reflects a fear among many Democrats that, should Republicans regain the Senate majority they lost in 2007, Democrats will need the filibuster to block their opponents’ agenda.”

    The same timidity will stop the lilly-livered Democrats from ever blocking their opponents no matter what the issue. We have no legislative branch when there is no debate. “No taxation without representation”? Who’s representing us when legislative action is stopped anonymously? And why isn’t the anonymous filibuster unconstitutional? Doesn’t that make Congress unaccountable to the people?

  • alamode

    The middle class and poor are not ‘supposed to wait.’ This is a supposed democracy…and we MUST ORGANIZE, ACT and PROTEST, and make these kinds of decisions DEAL BREAKERS. This will be costly in terms of time, money and energy…and to our competitiveness on the world stage and attention to things like climate change, nuclear proliferation…and what will hit us and our children! For other countries are moving ahead while we fiddle with obvious CORRUPTION. This is corruption! The Democratic Senate caves because of the POWER of MONEY. It’s not ‘one person, one vote’, with a watchdog media performing its checks and balances role. It’s a co-opted, consolidated media, and one dollar, one vote…and the Senators know that may not be about to change anytime soon. Our democracy, our Planet and our way of life depend on changing this NOW.

  • alamode

    Yes, both parties are BOUGHT.

  • catonine

    Is it just me or does McConnell look like a not so fresh fish in this picture?

  • John Cepelak

    You obviouly have a prefab opinion considering your name calling and vituperative tone. Your friends are the problem, and are resorting to tactics since they don’t seem to represent majority interest most of the time – stymie, block and delay. What’s in that for the vast majority in this country?

  • Charlie Patin

    I’ve never seen Harry as a fighter but I thought at least on this issue he’d do battle and win. All progressives should be extremely disappointed in this performance. The shame is on Harry Reid and I sincerely hope it costs him his next election. We need someone who will fight for the rights of everyone. The Senate needs to change the rules, NOW.

  • John Cepelak

    Cmompromise is a way of doing business in Washington but that seems to have gone by the wayside thanks to the Tea Party and their intimidated Republican bretheren. And the Dems are giving too much away to those bandits. What a crew…..

  • John Cepelak

    It’s called “giving away the store”.

  • John Cepelak

    If I saw that at the market I’d go to the next counter and buy chicken.

  • MicheleG

    I think it’s appalling that when the Legislature functions AS IT’S SUPPOSED TO (i.e.: getting nearly anything accomplished….) it is a newsworthy event…. then again getting almost nothing accomplished is newsworthy and a despicable example for the rest of the world. The arab world wants “democracy” right? It would behoove us to show how it should work not how how to ruin it by abuse of power, indifference to anything other than petty turf wars, and arrogance.

  • Anonymous

    Sen. Reid should have held out for substantial reform of the filibuster. The Senate has been completely ineffective while the minority Republicans have been able to obstruct operations. The Democrats are more worried about losing their majority than they are about actually governing while they are in the majority; this is shameful. Anyway, the Democrats are not in danger of losing the Senate majority any time soon; they should have brought back the ‘talking filibuster,’ and they should have gotten rid of the super-majority rule. We need a Senate that works for the people.

  • Starter

    This isn’t just a dem or rep issue. The dems want to use the same tactics if they are in the minority. This is an American issue and the senate let us down. A bunch of entitled gutless politicians. I’m trying to find out where my California senators stood. I may campaign against them after supporting them every chance I had.

  • Anonymous

    Whereas the Senate ostensibly convenes for the benefit of
    the United States Of America (rather than the Senators’ themselves or small
    cliques of big-donor insiders) let us submit this petition to the U.S. Congress
    and to President Barack Obama—“We, The People Of The United States, herewith,
    petition for immediate and permanent implementation, this cloture amendment:
    ‘All legislative business shall be apportioned time periods wherein a date for
    debate and roll-call vote on each item of business shall be allocated. If,
    during any month in which the U. S. Congress is convened, 70% of the apportioned
    legislative decisions to be decided have not been resolved with a ‘Yea’, or ‘Nay’
    roll-call vote then 70% of the aggregate monthly salaries of those members who
    vote against cloture for such votes shall be remitted to the U. S. Treasury for
    payment towards the outstanding balance of the National Debt of United States
    of America.”

  • Blue in Pennsy

    I don’t understand? What do the timid Dems have to lose if the rules expire at the end of each session, as these in two years? Do they actually think Repubs would not do it to them? Argh! The strength of the Dem party is our weakness: we don’t vote in lock-step like the united, disciplined Repubs do. If we did, we could actually get more of our agenda passed. Failed leadership: Reid and Durbin. Sigh.

  • Pamela Funk-Zuppo

    Apparently the move was one of long-term strategy. Historically, the midterm election may again pave the way for party repositioning in Congress, meaning we (the progressives) may lose some Senate seats. Preserving some wiggle room for the Democrats in the future was the basis of Reid’s compromise.

  • FRN

    Reid has no interest in effective reform, because then he would no longer have the convenient excuse that Republicans prevent the Democrats from advancing their purported goals in the Senate.

  • Anonymous

    Stupid, stupid, stupid… The Democrats practically have the world in their hands and they cut their stupid hands off. Idiots. The Republicans must be laughing their A@@es off.

  • Deb

    ……….when we sold our house we set a price, The buyer made an offer less than our asking price…..we accepted it BUT we still came out with a tidy profit. Moral of the story ….compromise means you do not not have to give away the house.

  • Walda DuPriest Brandt

    How representative government is lost.

  • LtDan

    Except democrats don’t and won’t misuse the filibuster, for various reasons: timidity, concern for doing the right thing in some cases, wanting to be liked by Republicans (a proven lost cause), fear of the next senate. Often, Democrats, especially under Reid cannot gather the gumption to stand up for what they believe in. How about replacing Reid, which I have asked Sens Merkley and Wyden to work for numerous times.

  • LtDan

    Not all, but many. Merkley and Udall are two of the exceptions. Why do you think the cowardly Reid backed away from his promises once again and then publicly berated Merkley for standing up for what he believed in and not buckling under to Reids “compromise”. Reid is another nice guy who is a terrible leader! Replace him!

  • Anonymous

    After my initial outrage at know-nuts Reid my only logical conclusion is that he figures the Rethugs MIGHT take back the Senate next time since many more Dems are up for re-election than Rethugs AND why use this BOMB now when – and this is important – he knows full well being able to work things out in a progressive way in the Senate will go nowhere in the House anyway. If he thought that the Dems would regain the House in 2014 AND Retain the Senate then you change the rules THEN – not now. If you only have one BOMB it must be used to maximum effect and when the timing is right.