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Harry Reid: Filibuster Rule Has 'Been Abused,' Needs Changing

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WASHINGTON -- After an exasperated rant about Republican obstructionism, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday night that it's time to revamp the Senate's longstanding filibuster rule.

"If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it's the filibuster rule, because it's been abused, abused and abused," Reid said on the Senate floor.

Reid's call for changing the procedural rule, which requires 60 votes to end debate on a bill, came after Republicans refused to take up and pass an otherwise noncontroversial bill aimed at reauthorizing the Export-Import bank. Republican leaders said they wanted more time to offer amendments, which forced Reid to file a procedural motion delaying the vote to Monday. Sixty votes will be needed to end debate on the bill, and a simple majority will be required to pass it. The bill regularly clears both chambers with little fanfare and already passed the House unamended and with an overwhelming majority.

"I have been here in Congress 30 years, but this is a new one. Even bills that [Republicans] agree on, they want to mess around with. In years past, this would have gone through here just like this," Reid said, snapping his fingers. "The House passed something 330-93, and we're here playing around with it? It should be done. We should have passed it yesterday. This thing is going to expire."

The majority leader lamented that he didn't support a previous push by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to weaken the filibuster rule. Instead, Reid made a "gentleman's agreement" in Jan. 2011 with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that they would preserve the rule.

"If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it's tonight," 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."

It's not the first time Reid has called for reforming the rule. During a May 2010 speech before a gathering of progressive media, Reid compared the procedural games played by his GOP counterparts to the use of a 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 at the time. "But we're going to take a look at the filibuster. Next Congress, we're going to take a look at it."

The reality is that it would be difficult to change the rule since it requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to do so. And while Republicans may be guilty of using the filibuster excessively to delay action on bills in this Congress, both parties have engaged in the practice when in the minority.

UPDATE: 5:00 p.m. -- A Senate Democratic aide told The Huffington Post that Reid wants to revisit the issue in January, when the new Congress begins and when there is a brief window to change Senate rules with a 51-vote threshold.

"Right when you convene a new Congress, you have an opportunity to alter rules with just a simple majority," said the aide. "Once that window closes, as soon you reconvene, it doesn't happen again until a new Congress starts. We're never going to get a two-thirds vote."

 
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