Harry Reid is having second thoughts.
The Senate majority leader and Nevada Democrat yesterday said he regretted not getting behind last year's push by a pair of Democratic senators to change the Senate rules to make it easier to pass legislation.
Calling the two senators behind the push - Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley - "prophetic," Reid said: "These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn't. They were right. The rest of us were wrong -- or most of us, anyway. What a shame."
Udall and Merkley (along with Tom Harkin) sought in 2010 to reform the filibuster rule that makes it nearly impossible to pass legislation through the 100-member Senate without 60 votes. In the House, by contrast, lawmakers need a simple majority to pass legislation.
Defenders of the filibuster say that it keeps the party in power from pushing its agenda too far. Detractors say it creates gridlock because lawmakers are increasingly unlikely to agree on anything in today's highly-polarized Senate. Without a filibuster rule, President Obama's health care law would have sailed through the Senate, possibly with a public option attached. The lack of a filibuster rule also likely would have meant a stronger financial reform bill, passage of the DREAM Act providing a path to citizenship for upstanding young people brought to American illegally, and a host of other Democratic priorities becoming law while Democrats held the House before the 2010 midterms.
One reform proposal last year would have gradually reduced the number of votes needed to break a filibuster - after a certain amount of time, for example, it would have only taken 55 votes to break a filibuster, and then, eventually, a simple majority. That plan, as well as a scaled-down proposal, was killed by senior Senate leadership, which instead
In his remarks Thursday, Reid lamented his part in blocking the proposal.
"If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it's the filibuster rules, because it's been abused, abused, abused," he said.
Democrats currently hold a narrow majority in the Senate; if they lose a net four seats in November, Republicans will take over the chamber. If they do, Democrats will see the filibuster as a valuable tool to keep Republican legislation from passage, rather than the major hindrance they view it as now. Senate observers say it is a tossup which party will be in control of the chamber next year.
Reid's comments followed a Republican filibuster of his effort to pass a bill that had already passed in the House to
reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. It generally takes two thirds of the Senate to change the chamber rules, but the senators seeking filibuster reform argued that under what they called "the Constitutional option" that the rules could be changed with 51 votes.