Is today the beginning of the end of the filibuster in the US Senate? So says the Huffington Post, but it’s not yet clear whether Harry Reid has the votes to pull it off. After a number of false alarms, though, Reid may not have much credibility left if he balks now:
The Senate could go nuclear as soon as Thursday morning, according to three Democratic Senate sources close to the decision.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is prepared to change Senate rules that currently require 60 votes to break a filibuster by invoking cloture. Under Reid’s new rules, only a simple majority would be required for all executive and judicial nominees other than those to the Supreme Court. Reid is meeting Thursday afternoon with progressive advocates of rules reform. …
It’s still not clear if Reid has the 51 votes to make the change, but it certainly looks close. There are 55 Democrats in total, which means Reid can lose up to four. HuffPost tracked down a number of Democrats on Tuesday to see who remains opposed to making the change, and only one, Levin, definitively said no. A couple of others, Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), avoided the question.
It’s practically an inevitability — even if Reid doesn’t have the votes. He can’t keep threatening the GOP with the move and not pull the trigger at some point. For Senate Republicans, the threat and the action are now pretty much the same thing, as Reid has used it to break filibusters anyway. It’s practically a moot point already.
Reid might want this to fail, however. For one thing, Senate Democrats have to be looking at the midterm elections with a lot more trepidation than they did a month ago, when Republicans bore the brunt of a short-term political failure on the shutdown. The ObamaCare failure will last all year long, and will get worse just before the midterms as employers decide whether to continue providing health-care coverage or just pay a fine and dump employees in the ObamaCare exchanges. They may end up on the short side of the aisle in 2015, and if Republicans ride ObamaCare to a 2016 victory, Reid’s caucus will have no tools left to prevent majoritarian steamrolling in the upper chamber.
Actually, the minority won’t be entirely without tools. The Senate depends on unanimous consent to dispense with a vast amount of tedium in parliamentary procedures in order to move efficiently on legislation. Unlike a filibuster, which takes 41 votes to sustain, one Senator can object to each motion for unanimous consent and tie up the chamber in endless bill readings and other non-essential business. It will add days or weeks to the most mundane tasks and could be used to keep plenty of presidential appointments tied up for lengthy periods, if applied universally. Reid might find himself out of the frying pan and into the fire after this stunt. Instead of speeding up the Senate, it might mire it for good in endless bickering.
We’ll see what happens, but if Reid does pass this, expect Republicans to retaliate — and expect them to end the rest of the filibuster as soon as they have the majority. After all, if it’s not good for confirmations, why should it apply to legislation?