Speaking in the wake of Tuesday’s election, which boosted Senate Democrats’ numbers slightly, Mr. Reid said he won’t end filibusters altogether but that the rules need to change so that the minority party cannot use the legislative blocking tool as often.
“I think that the rules have been abused and that we’re going to work to change them,” he told reporters. “We’re not going to do away with the filibuster but we’re going to make the Senate a more meaningful place.”
Republicans, who have 47 of the chamber’s 100 seats in the current Congress, have repeatedly used that strong minority to block parts of President Obama’s agenda on everything from added stimulus spending to his judicial picks. A filibuster takes 60 senators to overcome it.
Leaders of both parties have been reluctant to change the rules because they value it as a tool when they are in the minority.
But Mr. Reid said things changed over the last few years when he repeatedly faced off against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who had said his chief political goal was defeating Mr. Obama. Mr. Reid said that led the GOP to abuse the filibuster.
He did not say what changes he would support, though colleagues of his have proposed several.
One leading option would eliminate the chance to filibuster bringing a bill to the floor, though it would still let a minority filibuster actual passage. That proposal would also limit the number of amendments allowed by each side.
Senate Republicans, though, said the real problem is that Mr. Reid too often tries to limit the amendments they can offer to bills on the Senate floor. Left without the chance to debate their own priorities, the GOP sees little option but to filibuster.
After Mr. Reid’s comments Wednesday, Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, said Democrats would set a bad tone for next year.
“We hope Democrats will work toward allowing members of both sides to be involved in the legislative process — rather than poisoning the well on the very first day of the next Congress,” Mr. Stewart said. “And that Sen. Reid will honor his public commitment to do rules changes only through the regular order.”
Still, there’s likely to be pressure for some changes, particularly from newly-elected members of the chamber.
Sen.-elect Angus King, an independent who won Maine’s open Senate seat, also took aim at filibusters during his campaign, saying the 60-vote threshold for legislation to allow Senate action is not part of the Constitution.
Indeed, the founding document does not establish a supermajority for most legislation, but it does give each chamber the power to write its own rules, and the Senate has adopted the 60-vote threshold as a debating technique, not a threshold for passage — though that’s often what it becomes.