Udall says he has 51 votes for filibuster reform
This is not good news for Republicans - or for future minority parties in the US Senate.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a leading proponent of filibuster reform, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has the 51 votes he needs to change Senate rules with the "nuclear option."
The maneuver would be controversial, however, and could heighten partisan tensions at the start of the 113th Congress in January. Republicans say using 51 votes to change Senate procedures - and to prevent the minority party in the Senate from blocking a majority-vote - amounts to breaking the rules to change them.
"The crucial thing for all of you to know is Harry Reid's got 51 votes to do the Constitutional option at the beginning of the Congress," Udall said. "My sense is if he can't get agreement on the other side, then he's going to go forward."
Changing rules with a simple majority vote is considered so controversial it is sometimes called the nuclear option. Democrats backing the maneuver have described it as the "Constitutional option."
A bipartisan group of senators including Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican member of the Rules panel, are meanwhile working on a bipartisan compromise to change filibuster rules under regular order, which requires 67 votes.
Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) are part of the ad-hoc group working on a compromise to avoid the nuclear option.
The bipartisan group of senators floated their plan Friday afternoon.
It stops far short of the broader weakening of the filibuster that Udall, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and other Democrats are pushing to adopt with the "nuclear" or "constitutional" option.
The bi-partisan rule change would be bad enough, although in some ways, it may expedite routine legislation like confirming nominations for the federal bench. But what makes Udall's proposal so dangerous is that it would be adopted by less than the number of Senators that the rules call for. It has been tradition that it takes a two thirds vote to change Senate rules and the so called nuclear option would reduce that to a bare majority.
Democracy is not easy. It is supposed to be hard. And if minority rights aren't sufficiently protected, then you have a tyranny of the majority. The filibuster is one of the only things the minority has to excersize its rights. By making it virtually impossible to employ, Democrats will have successfully turned the Senate into a rubber stamp for the executive.