Filibuster Reform Just the Latest Senate Power Grab

Harry Reid
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Harry Reid

Senator Harry Reid (D–NV) wants to limit the filibuster now that he has retained his position as majority leader.

In July of this year, The Washington Post reported that Reid “is now openly promising to pass filibuster reform in the beginning of the next Congress if Democrats manage to hold onto a simple majority in the Senate and if Obama is reelected.” Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate and Obama won re-election. Now comes the power grab.

It is interesting that Reid promised to change the rules only if his party retained control of the presidency and the Senate. This is a partisan tactic, not an ideological fight.

In 2005, then-Senator Barack Obama was correct when he argued that “what [the American people] don’t expect, is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.”

On April 27, 2005, Reid himself argued against a Republican Senate majority that “not only is there a suggestion about changing the rules, but they are going to do it by breaking the rules. To change a rule here in the Senate takes a simple majority. But if somebody wants to speak in an extensive manner relating to that rule change, you have to break a filibuster. They are not willing to do that. They are going to use brute force and break the rules to change the rules. That is what they are talking about.”

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Reid is about to use that same “brute force” that he decried in 2005.

Reid went on to say argue that “one of the good things about this institution we have found in the 214 years it has been in existence is that the filibuster, which has been in existence since the beginning, from the days of George Washington—we have changed the rules as relates [sic] to it a little bit but never by breaking the rules. I say to my distinguished friend, the senior Senator from Illinois, in all the political writings about filibuster, that is one of the things they talk about as a positive. It forces people to get together because sometimes in this body you become very fixed.”

Reid would be breaking the explicit rules of the Senate to accomplish his “filibuster reform.”

Because the Senate is a continuing body, it is impossible to change the rules without ignoring a filibuster of the rule change that requires a two-thirds vote of all Senators. Senate Rule V provides that “no motion to suspend, modify, or amend any rule, or any part thereof, shall be in order, except on one day’s notice in writing, specifying precisely the rule or part proposed to be suspended, modified, or amended, and the purpose thereof.”

To suspend or change the rules, Reid would need 67 votes. Reid will argue that when the Senate comes into Session in January, he is allowed to change the rules with a party line 51-vote threshold.

Reid might want to read his own Senate website, which further makes the point that the Senate is a continuing body. “The Senate, in brief, was to be a ‘continuing body’ with one-third of its membership up for election at any one time.” The Senators Reid and Obama of 2005 should prevail and leave the filibuster intact.

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Source material can be found at this site.

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