Is Iron Hot For Filibuster Reform?

Proponents of filibuster reform know that it’s a perfectly logical idea for which the Senate never quite seems ready. But the recent abuse of the device by Republicans, aimed clearly at creating a ubiquitous 60-vote threshold for enacting legislation (or confirming appointments), has so disabled the Upper Chamber with such grave consequences that Democrats, at least, seem to be ready to take the plunge, or so indicates Harry Reid, who is signaling he may impose at least partial reform as part of the rules established for the next Congress.

Matt Yglesias suggests today that even Republicans may not go to the mats to save the filibuster weapon:

[T]his winter really might be the best time to make the change. In part that’s because several new Senators, including Chris Murphy and Angus King have already said they want reform.

But it’s also because the partisan stars are aligned correctly for it at a time when the Senate Republicans minority isn’t the main impediment to progressive reform. With the GOP firmly in control of the House of Representatives, filibuster reform won’t entail card check or cap and trade or any other huge legislative initiatives. What it will mean instead is simply that Barack Obama’s appointees get confirmed. That would be good for America. But it’s also something that I think both parties can accept.

Maybe Matt’s right, though I have a hard time imagining Mitch McConnell willingly giving up his main source of power, regardless of whether his party really needs it. But assuming Reid’s talking about imposing reform via a rules change, it can be upheld by a simple majority vote in the Senate. So the big question is whether he can prevent Democratic defections. And without a doubt there are Democratic senators who think of their own power as enhanced by the theoretical opportunity to gum up the works.

So it may take some grassroots pressure on Democrats to make this happen–unless Harry’s already counted noses and it’s all but a done deal.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.