Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) is expected to try to change the rules of the Senate to shut out the voices of the minority party in the new Congress. He calls it “filibuster reform,” but it is nothing more than a power grab by Senator Reid and the majority party to control the Senate’s agenda.
This power grab would allow less time for deliberation on legislation and nominations for Senators, meaning less time for the American public to view that deliberation.
There is a big problem with the tactic Reid is using to squelch the rights of individual members of the U.S. Senate—Reid has to ignore the letter of the rules to “reform” them with a simple-majority party-line vote.
Reid’s theory was originally explained in a Congressional Research Service paper from 2005:
Those who would seek to amend Senate rules or end a filibuster by a majority vote might use the first day of a new Congress to advance their proposal, arguing that Senate rules, particularly the cloture rule, Rule XXII, did not apply yet, and thus that debate could be ended by majority vote. Under this scenario, a Senator would move the adoption of a new rule or set of rules, which could contain changes to Rule XXII—or any other rule the Senator wanted to change.
Reid has argued that the filibuster has been abused, yet he is the one who has abused the process. Reid frequently files cloture—a motion to shut off debate—before one word has been spoken on the merits of proceeding to a bill or any arguments against the substance of a bill or the qualifications of a nominee. Reid has also used a parliamentary tactic to block all hostile amendments to bills. These two acts by Reid are an abuse of the rules.
Conservatives should turn the tables on him.
What Reid is trying to do is wrong, yet the only way for conservatives to fight back is to engage the fight. If Reid is going to push the theory that until the Senate operates under the rules, there are no rules, then he has provided an unprecedented opportunity for conservatives to push some real Senate rules reform ideas. If there are no rules, then Reid can’t stop conservatives from offering a never-ending stream of rules change ideas for the Senate to cast votes on.
Here are just a few ideas for rules changes that conservatives should push to make the Senate a more functional body:
- A new two-thirds point of order against any infringement on the Second Amendment rights of all Americans. This would be subject to a simple majority vote under Reid’s theory. There is a pro-gun majority in the Senate today, and this might actually pass. It would be a great tool for conservatives to forever block reinstatement of the assault weapons ban in addition to any other gun-grabbing ideas.
- A new two-thirds point of order against any net tax increase on the American people as scored by the Congressional Budget Office. This would be subject to a simple majority vote and is part of the Senate version of the Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution supported by all members of the current Republican caucus.
- A new point of order preventing the Senate Majority Leader from blocking amendments by filling up all the areas of the amendment tree with pro-forma amendments. Reid has used this tactic to prevent members from offering amendments. A new point of order should be proposed to prevent that tactic for Reid or any future Majority Leader.
- A new point of order to make Senators sign a consent form before a bill is passed by “Unanimous Consent” or “UC.” Many times, the Senate operates by waiving the rules with the consent of all Senators. Many times the bills passed are opposed by members, but they fear getting blamed for obstructing bills by forcing the Senate to abide by all the rules to pass a bill or confirm a nomination. This would put all members explicitly on the record supporting legislation that sneaks through the Senate under the radar.
These are merely a few ideas that could be rolled out by conservatives to fight back against the idea that the Senate can remove the rights of a minority with a party-line vote. The only way to stop Reid’s power grab is to roll out ideas for rules changes that conservatives support. Then maybe Reid will rethink his attempt to toss aside the rules in order to amass more power in the office of the Senate Majority Leader.