WASHINGTON — Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell fired a shot across the bow of a group of Senate Democrats looking to change the institution’s filibuster rule, accusing them of trying a “power grab” and warning that such reforms will just make it easier for the GOP to get rid of Dem legislation if and when they retake power.
Those Democratic senators in question include New Mexico’s Tom Udall, who will propose a slate of procedural changes Wednesday afternoon, and Amy Klobuchar, who has begun whipping support for the changes.
Klobuchar and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have launched a petition website at FilibusterReform.com, paid for by their election committees, to gather public support for the move. In addition, Klobuchar has taken the lead at party caucus meetings in both explaining the available options (all 15 of them) and courting Senate supporters.
Klobuchar said today that the filibuster reform proposal to be filed Wednesday will definitely include three things:
- Senators must actually filibuster a bill, talking continuously on the floor Jimmy Stewart-style;
- Holds on legislation and nominees must be publicly announced, rather than anonymous; and
- Filibusters would be restricted to debate on a bill, so that legislation can’t be filibustered before it’s actually considered.
No decision has yet been made, Klobuchar said, on whether to include other proposals such as reducing the number of senators needed to invoke cloture and end a filibuster, currently set at 60.
But McConnell is having none of it. In a withering op-ed in the Washington Post Tuesday afternoon, he let fly:
Over the past four years, Democrats have used such gimmicks to pursue their most prized legislative goals while attempting to minimize the number of uncomfortable votes they’ve had to take. My Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid, has played quarterback, setting records for the number of times he has blocked Republicans from having any input on bills, cut off our right to debate and bypassed the committee process in order to write bills behind closed doors.
This partisan approach is the main reason Republicans have stuck together over the past few years. In the best traditions of the Senate, we have insisted that the views of those we represent not be ignored. The November election suggested that voters appreciated our stand against partisanship. Yet rather than change their ways in the face of that election, Democrats are now looking for a way to essentially nullify its results. All of this should be familiar to anyone who remembers the debate on the health-care bill. One can’t help but wonder, though, whether those now pushing for partisan changes have fully thought through what damage they could do.
A change in the rules by a bare majority aimed at benefiting Democrats today could just as easily be used to benefit Republicans tomorrow. Do Democrats really want to create a situation where, two or four or six years from now, they are suddenly powerless to prevent Republicans from overturning legislation they themselves worked so hard to enact?
And have those pushing for these changes forgotten how their party used the rules of the Senate to block legislation when Republicans were in the majority? Given the ease with which majorities can shift these days, Democrats might want to be careful what they wish for.