When Harry Reid gets frustrated, he threatens to change the Senate’s rules to get his way.
The Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat from Nevada, has once again threatened to change the way the Senate works—this time, to push through President Obama’s nominees for several controversial appointments.
Reid wants to change the rules so that it would take only 51 votes, a simple majority, to break a filibuster. Now, it takes 60 votes to end debate.
The filibuster is a valued tool of minority Senators to keep the majority from simply enacting everything it wants. It’s one of the major differences between the House and Senate, making the Senate the more deliberative chamber.
But don’t take our word for it—Reid and President Obama already made the case for keeping the filibuster and the 60-vote rule intact. They argued quite well for it when they were in the Senate minority. Obama said in 2005:
what [the American people] don’t expect, is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet…everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster—if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate—then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.
Now Obama has signaled that he would support Reid’s changes. Reid argues that he just wants to pass Obama’s nominees for Cabinet positions and other agencies, and that the change would not apply to judges who enjoy lifelong appointments. Of course, once the filibuster is changed, it would be difficult to walk back the change.
All 100 Senators are invited to a closed meeting tonight to discuss the Obama nominees and Reid’s threats. We can hope that enough Senators recognize the value of the filibuster—whether they are in the minority or the majority—and preserve the ability to debate.