Harry Reid Pledges Filibuster Reform

05/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged on Wednesday to take a serious look at revising the filibuster rules at the beginning of the next Congress, calling the current level of obstruction in the Senate unacceptable.

In a reflection of the party's commitment to changing the parliamentary rules, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) followed the majority leader by saying that his committee would address the topic soon.

"The rules committee is going to start holding hearings on how to undo the filibuster rule," said Schumer, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee. The New York Democrat told the Huffington Post after the speech that the hearings would take place two or three weeks from now.

In a speech before a gathering of progressive media, Reid compared the procedural games played by his Republican counterparts to the use of the spitball in a baseball game and the four-corner offense in basketball -- tactics in each sport that were ultimately outlawed.

"The filibuster has been abused. I believe that the Senate should be different than the House and will continue to be different than the House," Reid said. "But we're going to take a look at the filibuster. Next Congress, we're going to take a look at it. We are likely to have to make some changes in it, because the Republicans have abused that just like the spitball was abused in baseball and the four-corner offense was abused in basketball."

Reid's embrace of filibuster reform comes after he previously threw cold water on the likelihood of getting the rules changed. His reference to the "next Congress" stands out. To change Senate rules in the middle of the session requires 67 votes, which Democrats clearly don't have. But changing the rules at the beginning of the 112th Congress will require the chair to declare the Senate is in a new session and can legally draft new rules. That ruling would be made by Vice President Joe Biden, who has spoken out against the current abuse of the filibuster. The ruling can be appealed, but that appeal can be defeated with a simple majority vote.

Preceding Reid on stage, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow also suggested that reform of the Senate rules was in the offing.

"We are trying to figure out that one right now," Stabenow said.

Noting that the origins of the word "filibuster" was from the days of piracy, she called the Republican tactic of holding up even mundane legislation "crazy" and pledged that both she and her colleagues would get more confrontational in the future.

"We are getting better on the strategy," Stabenow said. "Lets face it we know we've made some mistakes our biggest mistake was coming in this year and trying to govern, trying to get things passed... Republicans said 'wait a minute they are actually doing things, we should figure out a way to stop them.' And they did."

Ryan Grim contributed reporting.