Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid Joust Over Filibuster Reform

For the second day in a row, Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had a tense exchange on the Senate floor over filibuster reform.

Observers have decried gridlock in the Senate, especially since the 2010 election and many have pointed to the need to either end or change basic rules on how chamber uses the delay tactic.

Among the rules changes Reid wants to implement are a ban on filibusters at the start of debates, shortening the time required to break a filibuster and requiring that whoever is filibustering must actually talk on the floor.

But speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell says that Reid is being heavy-handed and that Democrats are more interested in a “power grab” after the election than dealing with the country’s problems.

“At a time when we ought to be turning the election off and trying to come together to solve the biggest problem—which I talked about first—which is the fiscal cliff and the nation’s seemingly hopeless deficit and debt situation,” he says. “That’s what we ought to be doing. Instead my friends on the other side just can’t keep continuing to celebrate the election. You won. Now why don’t we govern?”

Among the other options being discussed by Democrats are using the infamous “nuclear option” that would require a simple majority vote to make future rule changes.

Republican lawmakers have complained those proposed changes would erode Senate rules meant to protect the minority party. Since taking power six years ago, however, Democrats have faced an unprecedented 386 filibusters.

Democrats are emboldened after picking up two seats in the fall election when initial expectations were that they would lose control of the chamber. Reid’s caucus now holds a 55-to-45 majority, but that is still not enough to overcome the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

Reid says the Senate is dysfunctional and that during the campaign he heard the outcry and the public wants these simple changes to avoid unnecessary, partisan gridlock.

“They expect Washington and the United States Senate to work like ‘Mr. Smith Coming to Washington’ and not idle time with quorum calls waiting for 30 hours to expire on meaningless cloture,” says Reid. “The Senate isn’t working, and apart from Sen. McConnell and his troops basically everybody in America agrees the Senate’s not working.”

Political observers were quick to point out that McConnell led an effort to crush the filibuster seven years ago when Democrats were block former President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. But McConnell says those efforts cooled, adding these proposed changes could further divide the Senate.

“This is exactly the wrong way to start off on a new year and end an old year with a ton of problems that we have to deal with. Now here we are as a result of this suggestion that we employ the nuclear option, arguing about arcane rule changes when we ought to be sitting down together trying to solve the nation’s huge deficit and debt problems,” he says. 

Any rule changes would not take effect until January, when the 113th Congress takes control.

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