WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged on Wednesday to change the rules of the Senate so that the minority party has fewer tools to obstruct legislative business.
In his first post-election press conference, the Nevada Democrat said he wouldn't go so far as to eliminate the filibuster, which requires 60 votes for the chamber to enter and exit the amendment and debate process. But in remarks meant to preview a more combative approach during the next session, he warned Republicans that obstructionism as a tactic won't be tolerated -- or as technically feasible.
"I want to work together, but I also want everyone to also understand, you cannot push us around. We want to work together," Reid said.
"I do" have plans to change the Senate rules, he added. "I have said so publicly and I continue to feel that way ... I think the rules have been abused, and we are going to work to change them. We will not do away with the filibuster, but we will make the senate a more meaningful place. We are going to make it so we can get things done."
Reid has gone down this path before, flirting with the concept of rules reform after the 2010 midterm elections. But he backed off the idea under pressure from some of the chamber's longer-serving members, including those within his own party.
Sources close to the majority leader say the intervening time period has hardened his belief that the Senate is too dysfunctional to leave its rules untouched. And in an interview over the summer with The Huffington Post, Reid outlined the specific details of what he had in store for the next Congress.
"The first thing is the most important thing," Reid said the interview. "Do away with motion to proceed. Just do away with it. I favor the filibuster. There's a reason for the filibuster. I understand it. It's to protect the rights of the minority. The Senate was set up to protect the rights of the minority ... so that's the no. 1 issue, and the rest of the stuff we can deal with if there's a filibuster conducted. Those are the kind of things -- if we get the motion to proceed out of the way, we can debate it, one, to cloture. That's good. So that's the no. 1 biggie."
Even with Democrats set to control the Senate -- indeed, even set to expand their current majority -- the avenues for Reid to pursue rules reform aren't entirely clear.
There has historically been some debate over whether the majority can change the Senate rules at the beginning of each term, or whether two-thirds support is needed, per the Senate rules. The question hinges on whether the Senate is a "continuing legislative body" or whether each new term marks a new Senate. Those who want to change the rules using a majority vote argue that past Senates cannot bind the hands of future legislative bodies.
Whatever the historical record, the basic fight comes down to numbers. No matter what the Senate chair rules, a majority can overrule the chair. However, that will likely be unnecessary, as Vice President Joe Biden is known to be a supporter of filibuster reform, and a believer that the constitution allows the majority to write new rules at the start of a term.
Some Republicans may be willing to go along as well, hoping to have the rules in place for the next time they control the upper chamber, which could come as soon as 2015.