Earlier today, the White House released a statement indicating that “the President supports Senator Reid’s efforts to reform the filibuster process.” To date, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has kept the details of his plans to reform the filibuster vague. He does endorse eliminating filibusters on the “motion to proceed,” a minor tweak that would take away the minority’s power to filibuster the same bill twice before it can receive a vote. And Reid also endorses some form of “talking filibuster” that will require at least one senator to speak in defense of a filibuster on the Senate floor in order to maintain their obstruction — an idea that could achieve meaningful change if it includes a proposal by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to require a minimum number of senators to be on the Senate floor at all times in order to maintain a filibuster. Until Reid releases more details about whether his plans include the Merkley proposal or something similarly significant, however, it is difficult to assess whether his efforts will end Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s six year reign as master of Senate obstructionism.
Last January, however, Reid supported a very significant proposal by President Obama that would achieve far more to enable the Senate to function in the next two years than the two most widely discussed reforms. In his State of the Union Address this year, the president proposed changing the Senate’s rules to ensure that all presidential nominees receive an up or down vote in the Senate:
Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything, even routine business, passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now, both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public servant nominations receive an up or down vote within 90 days.
Reid indicated his support for this proposal shortly after President Obama suggested it, although with the caveat that he wanted to keep the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.
The reality is that Republicans control the House — and, thanks to partisan gerrymandering, will likely continue to do so for the near future. So any filibuster reform that prevents obstruction of legislation is unlikely to accomplish much so long as Republicans can still dominate the legislative process in the other half of Congress. For this reason, President Obama’s proposal is the most important and most significant filibuster reform proposal suggested to date. It will clear the Senate to conduct the one kind of business it can perform without asking Speaker John Boehner’s permission — confirming nominees — and eliminate the silly charade that allows Senate Republicans to declare Nobel Prize winning economists unqualified to set economic policy and top legal scholars unsuited to be judges.
Obama’s decision to support Reid is significant, but the far more important question is whether Reid still supports Obama’s plan to end minority obstruction of the confirmation process — and whether Reid will include the Obama plan in his filibuster reform package in January.