WASHINGTON -- One of the Senate's departing moderate Republicans expressed openness on Tuesday to the idea of filibuster reform, lamenting the ideological rigidity that has paralyzed the chamber.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who announced her retirement several months ago, acknowledged that it was necessary for her and her colleagues to consider whether changing the rules of the filibuster was needed to remedy the Senate.
"I would look at that," Snowe told The Huffington Post. "I don't know if it is necessary. But I think that all of that is a possibility to unravel this situation. I haven't gone on any of the legislation that has proposed some of the rules changes. I don’t know if we have to change the 60-vote number or not because my concern is that's what builds consensus, supposedly."
Snowe would go on to argue that both parties had stretched -- if not outright abused -- the rules, with Democratic leadership limiting Republicans' ability to offer amendments and GOP leadership applying a 60-vote threshold to legislation. Appearing off-camera after an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," she responded positively to the suggestion that each party would agree to limit that practice as part of some sort of bargain.
Snowe's comments come at a time when attention has turned once again to what changes, if any, should or could be made to Senate rules in order to facilitate more legislative action. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called explicitly for filibuster reform, saying that Republicans had abused the practice time and time again. Meanwhile, a top lawyer who serves on the board of Common Cause, one of Washington's major good-government groups, recently argued that the filibuster is unconstitutional and should be abolished by the Supreme Court. As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein noted: "Between 1840 and 1900, there were 16 filibusters. Between 2009 and 2010, there were more than 130."
Of course, this type of talk is nothing new. In the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2010 elections, progressives urged Reid to revamp the chamber's rules on the first day of the session. Under pressure from some of his longer-serving colleagues, he instead cut a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for more piecemeal reforms.
Snowe's laments about Senate gridlock aren't likely to change the prevailing mindset: many members are frightened over what would happen if they were in the minority and couldn't use the filibuster. When the Senate votes on its new rules, Snowe won't even be present.
But her comments do underscore a growing concern over the state of the chamber, and its legacy. Asked, for instance, to respond to Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's recent statement that bipartisanship meant Democrats accepting Republican ideas, Snowe called it unrealistic.
"You'd be idealist to you think somehow you'll be able to persuade people of your point of view. But as we know the United States Senate requires 60 votes," she said on "Morning Joe." "And since the inception of the cloture vote ... there's only been seven times that one party has been a filibuster-proof majority. So you have to have 60 votes. And neither party is going to get 60 votes in the foreseeable future. Until that happens, we have to figure a way to get by those differences."
"So that's the point. If they don't come your way, then what do you do? And that is what's disturbed me," she added. "We don't transcend those differences anymore. We don't get past them."