Do the Senate's Filibuster Rules Have to Go?

Majority Leader Harry Reid threatens a change in Senate procedure.

Harry Reid
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is close to following through on his threat to change the Senate's filibuster rules in response to Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama's nominees. The Democratic leader filed cloture on seven nominees Thursday, and said he'll invoke the "nuclear option" if votes continue to be blocked.

Current Senate rules require 60 votes to invoke cloture and end a filibuster, which Reid said Republicans are overusing to stop Obama nominees from being confirmed. A deal struck between Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in January was supposed to limit Republicans' ability to filibuster, but Democrats say Republicans broke their promise. Many nominations remain stalled, so Reid wants to change the rules so only a simple majority of 51 would be required to move nominations through the chamber.

Reid said his party wants to break the gridlock that has become the norm in Congress, and that the first step is for Republicans to stop blocking Obama's nominees. He maintains that opposition to a nominee can be shown by voting against the candidate, rather than preventing a vote from taking place altogether:

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

"We're not interested in cutting a deal to pass one or two or three nominees. The president deserves to have his team in place, and there are no more major objections to the qualifications of any of these nominees," Reid said. "All we need is six [GOP votes] to invoke cloture. Let them vote against these people."

Not all Democrats agree with the proposed rule changes, however. Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan has long opposed Reid's proposal, and continues to voice his concerns.

Republicans, too, say eliminating the right to filibuster would be the end of the Senate, "the world's greatest deliberative body." McConnell said Reid would also destroy his personal legacy.

"No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate," McConnell said. "Well, if this majority leader caves to the fringes and lets this happen, I'm afraid that's exactly what they'll write."

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

The two leaders have scheduled a meeting Monday to address the issue. Nominees that have yet to be confirmed include Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gina McCarthy to the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Perez as Labor secretary and several vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.

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