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The calendar says the 113th Congress began almost three weeks ago, but as of Tuesday morning, the Senate was still not done with its first legislative day. That’s because Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader, wanted to leave open the option of changing the Senate’s rules with a simple majority vote—a maneuver that many legislators believe will only pass constitutional muster if it is performed on the first legislative day of a new Congress.
Here’s why Reid wants to change the rules. Over the past several years, Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, have objected to ending debate on almost every major bill and presidential nomination to come before the Senate. Since ending debate and moving to an up-or-down vote requires 60 votes, and there are fewer than 60 Democrats, these objections—called filibusters—have allowed the GOP to effectively block much of the Dems’ agenda.
Because of this, some Democrats have advocated dramatically reducing the power of the filibuster. Others have pushed less-ambitious reforms they say will make the Senate run better. Most Republicans, of course, want to hold on to their ability to obstruct the Democratic agenda—and some Democrats are worried that scrapping the filibuster now will reduce their ability to obstruct Republicans once the GOP regains the majority.
But although the Senate has had 19 days to ponder what to do at the end of the (legislative) day, little actual work has been done. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, has speculated that Reid will negotiate with McConnell to come up with a final package that satisfies both parties. But as of last week, the two men didn’t seem to have met on the issue. The minority leader is still waiting for Reid to back a specific proposal, according to a McConnell aide.
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