Will the new filibuster rules improve the Senate?

Plenty of Democrats and outside advocacy groups are shaking their heads after the Senate agreed to only minor changes to how business is conducted

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks at his weekly news conference on Dec. 4.
(Image credit: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Like the great filibusters of the past — "Huey Long quoting his oyster recipe, Al D'Amato singing Gene Autry, and Bernie Sanders just plain speechifying" — the Senate Democrats' big "filibuster-reform push was fun while it lasted, but it's over now," says David A. Graham at The Atlantic. On Thursday night, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a watered-down set of rule changes and informal agreements worked out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The new agreement will cut the delay for confirming presidential nominees, especially federal judges; shrink the number of allowable filibusters, make senators actually take to the Senate floor to threaten one, and provide some workarounds; and allow the minority party to offer amendments to legislation, among other tinkering. It does not, however, end the current de facto 60-vote requirement for any bill to pass. That means it doesn't, in fact, change the filibuster.

What happened? The reformers had the wind at their backs. Everyone agreed that the Senate was grievously broken. Democrats had not only not lost seats in the Senate but had gained them. And Reid had publicly said that reform was needed and that he was willing to use the "nuclear option" — changing the official Senate rules with a bare majority of 51 votes — to get it done if he had to. But the veterans got in the way. This was always the danger. Merkley and Udall are both freshman senators; neither one has ever been in the minority. While they agitated for changes, more senior Democratic senators eyed them warily, remembering when they'd been in the minority and used filibusters — albeit less frequently than the current minority. [The Atlantic]

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.