Filibuster Reform Looking More Likely

As consideration of the "constitutional option" of a Senate rules change restricting the filibuster by a majority vote becomes serious, handicapping of individual senators is also getting underway. Thanks to the 2012 elections, Harry Reid could lose up to five members of his Caucus and still prevail. A breakdown by The Hill's Alexander Bolton lists ten Democrats (including Indiana's newly elected Joe Donnelly, who is apparently not on record at all on this subject) who are not publicly on board with a rules change that would ban filibusters on motions to proceed and require "talking filibusters" instead of filibustering by mere threat.

When you go through the list of holdouts, however, the number likely to buck Reid (who has himself reversed his position since the 2011 vote on a very similar Udall/Merkely/Harkin measure) begins to shrink. John Kerry, who has additional reasons to be a team player right now, is "leaning heavily" towards support. Jay Rockefeller says he'd prefer "radical over nothing." Daniel Inouye's doubts are only about the "talking filibuster" ban (entirely legitimate doubts, as Jonathan Bernstein keeps pointing out). Diane Feinstein is similarly on board a ban on filibustering motions to proceed. Bill Nelson doesn't like the "constitutional option," but says "I'm supporting Harry Reid." Max Baucus and Jack Reed seem entirely neutral at this point, which makes it unlikely they'd buck Reid and the Caucus and kill reform.

That leaves two Senate Democrats who voted against the 2011 bill and haven't said anything indicating a change of position: Carl Levin and Mark Pryor. If they and Donnelly wind up being the only holdouts, then Reid would comfortably have the votes without any concessions to bring a Republican or two on board. And you'd figure Levin might be susceptible to some back-home Blue State pressure if push comes to shove.

It's also possible, of course, that the proposal could be modified to solidify the Democratic vote, or that once Reid has the votes a deal could be struck with Republicans restricting filibusters without resorting to the "constitutional option."

All in all, we're a lot closer to filibuster reform than anyone might have expected until very recently. Whether the reforms under discussion will make a big difference in how the Senate operates is a different, and the ultimate, question.


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