Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s sudden decision to force a narrow change in the chamber’s procedures could backfire.
First, it could make it harder for Democrats to break GOP filibusters because Republicans may be even less willing to close off debate on legislation.
Even worse for Democrats, the tactics Reid employed to change a Senate precedent could make it easier for Republicans to justify using similar procedures to force simple-majority votes on hugely contentious issues, such as repealing Democratic priorities like health care reform and Wall Street regulations, Senate experts on both sides of the aisle said Friday.
The chaos began Thursday night when Senate Democrats voted 51-48 to effectively overturn the Senate parliamentarian on a ruling regarding amendments offered after the Senate invokes cloture — which shuts off debate. It was the first time in 11 years the parliamentarian had been voted down. While the rules in play are arcane, the impact could be significant — future Senate majorities may be encouraged to more regularly employ a similar procedure if their will is being blocked by the minority party on hot-button policy fights.
“Changing the precedence of the Senate is a big deal,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
The new precedent limits how senators can force a vote on amendments in the 30 hours of debate after a filibuster is defeated. During that time, senators can no longer ask to suspend the rules so their amendments can be considered, a process that ordinarily would have required two-thirds of the Senate’s support to succeed. Now only amendments that both parties agree to can be considered for a vote after a filibuster is defeated.
As a result, Republicans in the minority party may now be far less willing to break a filibuster if Reid does not allow their amendments for votes beforehand or allow them to shape the bill sufficiently to their liking.