IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Prospects for Senate reform improve

At the beginning of last year, with Democrats maintaining a Senate majority for the third-consecutive Congress, there was a concerted effort to reform institutional rules and curtail Republican filibuster abuses. Those efforts failed, replaced with a "gentleman's agreement" that was largely ignored soon after.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a traditionalist who's resisted changes to way the chamber operates, expressed regret for leaving filibuster rules intact.

For those who can't watch clips online, Reid said on the Senate floor:

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

"If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it's the filibuster rules, because it's been abused, abused, abused."

That last point shouldn't be considered controversial by anyone. The Senate wasn't designed to work this way; it didn't use to work this way; and it's quite obvious that it can't work this way.

Consider this tidbit: from 1917 to 1972, a grand total of 82 cloture motions were filed. In this Congress, which began just last year, there have been 84. In other words, there have been more cloture motions filed in the last year and a half than the Senate saw in the half-century between World War I and Watergate.

The most cloture motions filed in American history were filed by Republicans in the 110th Congress (2007 to 2008). The second most were filed by Republicans in the 111th Congress (2009 to 2010). And the third most filed by Republicans in the 112th Congress (2011 to 2012).

"Abused, abused, abused" sounds about right. 

Mandatory supermajorities for literally every vote of any consequence not only make it impossible for the legislative branch to function effectively, it creates what is, in effect, a governmental crisis in which abandonment of norms prevents policymakers from responding to national needs.

The question, of course, is what Reid -- or anyone else -- intends to do about it. The Majority Leader has not publicly discussed any plans, but his endorsement of institutional reform makes it significantly more likely that changes will eventually occur.