Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) expects a showdown in July over a potential second round of filibuster reform, and he’s prepared to push for a sweeping change to the minority’s ability to unilaterally obstruct judges and other nominees. According to reporting by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Reid “is eyeing a change to the rules that would do away with the 60-vote threshold on all judicial and executive branch nominations.” The test, according to Sargent, of whether Reid will push this reform is whether Senate Republicans lift their blockades on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez, and Environmental Protection Agency leader-in-waiting Gina McCarthy.
While Reid’s apparent willingness to press serious filibuster reform is welcome, he made similar statements during the lead up to a debate over filibuster reform last January. That debate ultimately led to a weak package of reforms and a victory for Republicans. A minority of Senate Democrats, lead by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), refused to support reforms that would enable the Senate to function in the face of a determined obstructionist minority.
This time around, however, there are two reasons why Reid may be successful in pulling together the 51 votes necessary to achieve real reform. The first is the simple fact that Levin is retiring, so he can no longer approach colleagues as a powerful committee chair who could potentially influence the fate of their bills for years. Beyond that, a key Democratic ally is now facing what could potentially be an existential threat. Two Republican courts held that President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are not valid, and if these decisions are upheld it will completely disable the NLRB’s ability to function. Without the NLRB, the backbone of federal labor law will become completely unenforceable — and with it, the right to organize could effectively cease to exist so long as Senate Republicans block new appointments to the Board. Unless, of course, Senate Democrats take away the ability to block confirmations via a filibuster.