WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled Wednesday that he isn't backing down in his plan to get rid of Senate filibuster rules at the start of the next Congress if Democrats are in charge.
Reid sparred with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for several minutes on the issue during an unusually heated back-and-forth on the Senate floor. McConnell raised the issue and blasted Reid for saying in an interview with MSNBC's Ed Schultz that, if Democrats retain the majority after the elections, he will nix the decades-old rule requiring 60 votes to end debate on a bill. Reid has a brief window at the start of the next Congress to make that change with a simple majority vote. By contrast, if he tried to change the rule at any other point in the session, it would require 67 votes.
"I wanted to begin by asking my friend the majority leader if his comments at the beginning of this Congress on Jan. 27, 2011, are no longer operative," McConnell said. "At that time, my friend the majority leader said, 'I agree that the proper way to change national Senate rules is through the procedures established in those rules and I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next ... to change the Senate's rules other than through the regular order.' So my first question of my friend the majority leader is, is that statement no longer operative?"
Reid responded that his past comments are essentially moot given the way Republicans have abused the filibuster rule since then. He reiterated that he supports a bill offered by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one he previously opposed, as the best path forward for fixing the Senate. Their bill would essentially change the rules to require only a simple majority vote to end debate on a bill, something Democrats would have the votes to do every time.
"I think what has happened the last few years of changing the basic rules of this Senate, where we have not 50 votes to pass something but it takes 60 on everything, I think that's wrong," Reid said. "The filibuster was originally devised ... to help legislation get passed. That's the reason they changed the rules here to do that. Now it's being used to stop legislation from passing and we have to change things because this place is becoming inoperative."
The biggest problem facing the Senate is that "we can't get legislation on the floor," Reid continued. "We've tried very hard all different ways to move legislation in this body but for the first time in the history of the country, the number one issue in the Senate of the United States has been a procedural thing, how do we get on a bill, a motion to proceed to something. That has taken over the Senate and it needs to go away. We shouldn't have to do that anymore."
In recent years, Republicans have relied heavily on the filibuster rule to block bills they don't like. Democrats have done the same when in the minority, but not to the extent that Republicans have used it since President Barack Obama took office.
Reid has been talking for months about wanting to change the filibuster rule, but his most recent comments show him stepping up his threats with an actual promise to do so if Democrats stay in charge after November.
McConnell continued to berate Reid for threatening to do away with the long-standing Senate rule. He suggested the chamber doesn't "have a rule problem," but "an attitude problem" because Democrats aren't willing to work with Republicans to find common ground on bills they can pass.
"[Reid] has a unique role in this institution. He has the opportunity to set the agenda. And just because all 100 senators don't immediately fall into line and it may be a little bit difficult to go forward is no excuse for not doing the important and basic work that the American people sent us here to do," said the GOP leader. "Passing bills is inevitably difficult, but not impossible. And that's been demonstrated on at least five occasions when the majority leader allowed the committees to function, allowed the Senate floor to function, allowed members to have amendments, and we got a result."
As Reid began to respond, McConnell cut him off and things got more testy.
"I don't think it calls for my being interrupted here," Reid said. "I've listened patiently to his name calling and I don't intend to do that."
Reid then mocked McConnell for highlighting that a handful of bills have passed through the regular order of business.
"I've tried to call up lots of things, by consent or by filing motions and virtually everything has stopped. For him to boast about passing five pieces of legislation in an entire Congress isn't anything any of us should be happy about. We shouldn't be happy about that at all," he said.
"We should be passing scores of pieces of legislation, like we did in the last Congress."