Senate Democrats announced on Tuesday that they are still pushing filibuster reform, but are opting to negotiate with Republicans rather than act alone.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), after months of tough talk on changing filibuster rules to speed up the Senate on everything from legislation to judicial confirmations, said Tuesday that he will hold off on those changes for now.
Instead, Reid announced from the Senate floor that he is delaying the filibuster discussion to work with Republicans over the next 10 days on a solution to the chamber's historic level of gridlock. "I'm confident we'll reach an agreement that allows the Senate to operate more effectively in the coming months," Reid said.
Reid had already delayed a vote on changing the filibuster rules earlier in January. He could have tried to force through changes on Tuesday under a controversial tactic dubbed the "Nuclear Option." In theory, the Constitution would allow him to force through the changes with only 51 votes instead of the usual 67.
Reid did use a procedural maneuver on Tuesday to yet again extend the first day of the 113th Congress and thereby preserve his ability to use that option.
Reid's announcement sent Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), filibuster reformers, to the floor to defend their proposal on Tuesday morning. They say the heart of their reforms is the "talking filibuster," which requires senators to take to the floor and speak to block a vote, rather than through an anonymous "hold."
But the latest proposals floating between Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) do not include the talking filibuster, according to Capitol Hill newspapers The Hill and Politico. Reid and McConnell met on the issue Tuesday morning and briefed their party caucuses over lunch, the papers reported.
McConnell, on the floor Tuesday, acknowledged that the Senate's status quo was "not working" but he put the blame on Democrats. "The Senate isn't functioning as it should, and it has nothing to do with a process that has served us well for a very long time," McConnell said. "But if we work together and strive to avoid some of bad habits that have developed around here, I truly believe that we'll be able to achieve the kinds of solutions that have eluded us for the past four years."
Two years ago, the last time the Senate considered changing the filibuster, Reid abandoned Democratic reformers in favor of a gentleman's agreement with Republicans to eliminate secret holds and reduce the use of the filibuster. The move avoided the nuclear option, Smith noted, but Reid later regretted the deal, and said on the Senate floor later in 2011 that Republicans were not holding up their end of the bargain.
The costs of the Senate gridlock are evident: Judicial nominees waited an average 139 days just to secure a confirmation vote from the full Senate during President Obama's first term, compared with 54 days during George W. Bush's administration and 30 days during Bill Clinton's, according to the Brookings Institution.
And the best-qualified attorneys for the bench, especially those at top law firms, have become increasingly wary of confirmation delays that can harm their business and personal finances, according to some senators.