July 11, 2012 – 10:55 p.m.

McConnell Signals He’d Retain Filibuster Rules as Majority Leader

While top Senate Democrats have threatened to curb the use of filibusters, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he would protect the minority’s ability to block legislation if Republicans take control of the chamber next January.

The Kentucky Republican took that position during a private dinner July 10 for members of the Rules and Administration Committee, a panel that considers Senate rules and procedures.

Two senators who attended the event in a dining room off the Senate floor said McConnell made it clear that he wants to retain current filibuster rules regardless of the outcome of the November elections.

“Mitch will run things differently,” said one of the senators, who spoke not for direct attribution. “It won’t be different because the rules are different.”

“I don’t think [McConnell] has changed his opinion on anything. . . . The Senate functions very well under the current structure,” said another senior Republican who attended the session.

Rules and Administration Chairman Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a longtime McConnell rival, has devoted much of the current Congress to examining proposals that would curb the ability of a minority of senators to thwart the will of a majority by blocking Senate action. Among steps under consideration are changing the 60-vote requirement to invoke cloture and limit debate on motions to proceed to legislation and requiring senators waging a filibuster to remain on the floor throughout.

Schumer said he was pleased that the minority leader participated in the give-and-take session with panel members. But he declined to comment on the substance of the discussion.

Last October, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a variation of the so-called nuclear option to establish by a simple majority vote a precedent that effectively changed a Senate rule. The move barred the use of motions to suspend the rules to circumvent the Senate’s prohibition against offering non-germane amendments to legislation once cloture has been invoked — effectively continuing a filibuster post-cloture.

While Reid and other senior Democrats say they have no plans for further changes this year that would limit Republican efforts to block legislation, they have signaled that they may move to limit the use of the filibuster next year if they retain the majority.

In May, an exasperated Reid praised Democrats Tom Udall of New Mexico and Jeff Merkley of Oregon for proposing filibuster curbs at the start of this Congress that he resisted. “They were right,” Reid said. “The rest of us were wrong, or most of us anyway. What a shame.”

Reid mounted a new attack Wednesday on GOP “obstruction” of a White House-backed bill (S 2237) that would provide tax credits to employers who hire workers, raise salaries and make major equipment purchases. In a floor speech, he traced the etymology of the word “filibuster,” telling McConnell it comes from a Dutch term describing a “class of pirate adventurers who pillaged the West Indies in the 17th century.”

Despite such provocations, Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said McConnell has made clear his determination as the leader of a potential GOP majority to preserve the filibuster and adopt a more open approach to floor debate.

“Mitch has made it very clear to all of us that if we’re in the majority, we’re going to end up taking tough votes, because he’s going to allow amendments,” Corker said.