TRB JANUARY 24, 2013
As I predicted, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's calendar-freezing machinations to reform the filibuster turned out to be much ado about nothing. Reid and McConnell have struck a deal to eliminate filibusters on "motions to proceed," leaving intact filibusters on the actual legislation. In exchange, the minority will be guaranteed the chance to bring two amendments to the floor. There are also a few other chickenshit changes. The Washington Post's Paul Kane has some details here, and the Post's Ezra Klein has more here. It's mildly cheering to learn that National Review's John Fund considers the filibuster deal a catastrophe for minority-party rights (and therefore for representative government). But I feel pretty sure he's wrong about that.
In my earlier post I was too dismissive of another idea Reid was considering, which would have required the minority to produce 41 votes in order to sustain a filibuster (as opposed to current procedure, which requires the majority to produce 60 votes to break one). At least theoretically, it turns out, such a rule could have allowed the majority to call a cloture vote at some maximally inconvenient time for the minority. It seems Reid was figuring out at about the same time I was that the 41-vote rule had some real potential to halt filibusters, because he has now discarded it. "I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold," Reid told Klein this morning. (Reid has never been terribly keen on serious filibuster reform.)
The Democrats are said to have sufficient votes to push through more meaningful filibuster reform, but my guess is they'll do as their majority leader tells them and drop it, at least for now. A vote is expected later this afternoon. Once that business is taken care of, the Senate can stop pretending that it's still Jan. 3 and begin a new legislative day. Whether the untamed filibuster will permit much more Senate action than that over the next two years is anybody's guess.