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Mr. Reid Goes to Washington... Makes Backroom Deal for Meager Filibuster Reform

"Talking Filibuster" appears too noble an option for current Senate as compromise expected

Jon Queally, staff writer

Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (Photo: Newscom)

According to reports on negotiations between Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), advocates of strong filibuster reforms that would bring back the "talking filibuster" in the US Senate—made famous in the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and which forces Senators to actually speak on the Senate floor to put a hold on legislation they object to—will be disappointed to discover that such a change has been excluded from a deal that could be announced as early as Thursday.

A more "meager" agreement may be reached, but it appears that Reid's threats earlier this week to use the so-called "nuclear option" by setting new rules for the Senate at the outset of the term were more bluster than hard-nosed attempts to get the changes that many say are needed to truly free the Senate from the gridlock of recent years.

Word of the compromise was met with scorn by those pushing for a return of the "talking filibuster" and stronger reforms overall.

Common Cause, a citizens advocacy group in Washington, said if reports of the agreement between Reid and McConnell were true the deal would only continue the Senate’s march toward irrelevance.

"At a minimum, Senate rules should require that those seeking to block legislation be required to stand up and explain their position – and keep explaining it until they persuade a majority to join them or run out of things to say," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.

"It’s distressing to hear that the so-called reform in the works would preserve the 'silent filibuster,' allowing the minority to kill bills simply by sending an email or making a phone call," Edgar added.

And as leading reform advocate Larry Cohen, in a recent interview with journalist Bill Moyers, said: “We think our members and working people in this country and most Americans would say it’s fair: people get elected, at some point the majority should rule. That’s the way it is in every other democracy in the world… We need to bring back the debate in the U.S. Senate.”

As Talking Points Memo reports, the deal, which is not yet final, makes only "very modest changes."

The emerging accord is a major step away from the Merkley-Udall “talking filibuster” plan which would have required a filibustering minority to occupy the floor and speak ceaselessly until one side gives in. It’s also more modest than Reid’s middle-path proposal to McConnell, which would have shifted the burden from a majority seeking to advance legislation and nominations to a minority seeking to block them.

The major proponents of reform believe the Reid-McConnell deal under discussion would not make it easier to pass legislation, and believe the only meaningful upside is that it may speed up the confirmation of some judicial nominations.

The agreement would avoid the need for Reid to utilize the constitutional option and change Senate rules with 51 votes, a move that Reid said Wednesday morning he had the votes for but which many Republicans and Levin warned against using.

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