GOP may go to the mattresses over filibuster reform

The pop culture reference to "The Godfather" analogy for war is not an exaggeration. Senate Republicans are so incensed over Harry Reid's plans to reform the filibuster that they may go all the way and attempt to shut down the government to prevent it.


Democrats are threatening to change filibuster rules, in what will surely prompt a furious GOP revolt that could make those rare moments of bipartisan consensus even harder to come by during the next Congress.

Here's what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering: banning filibusters used to prevent debate from even starting and House-Senate conference committees from ever meeting. He also may make filibusters become actual filibusters - to force senators to carry out the nonstop, talkathon sessions.

Republicans are threatening even greater retaliation if Reid uses a move rarely used by Senate majorities: changing the chamber's precedent by 51 votes, rather than the usual 67 votes it takes to overhaul the rules.

"I think the backlash will be severe," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the conservative firebrand, said sternly. "If you take away minority rights, which is what you're doing because you're an ineffective leader, you'll destroy the place. And if you destroy the place, we'll do what we have to do to fight back."

"It will shut down the Senate," the incoming Senate GOP whip, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, told POLITICO. "It's such an abuse of power."

The push will happen at the start of the new Congress, when Reid will unveil a rules package certain to have some changes to the filibuster. The exact contents of that package have yet to be finalized, as is the decision on whether to invoke the so-called nuclear option - 51 votes - to push it through. But Democratic senators are urging Reid to take steps ranging from the most draconian one of virtually eliminating the filibuster to more piecemeal changes designed to discourage the use of the stalling tactic.

There may indeed be a need to reform the filibuster. Preventing debate is silly as is blocking House-Senate conference committees. Members can tie up those committees other ways besides filibustering. Besides, if the conference committee's work is not to the GOP's liking, they can filibuster a final vote on the legislation.

But Reid's naked agression against ancient senate rules should not be allowed. The "nuclear option" will give Democrats the tyranny of majority rule and defeat the purpose of having a senate in the first place. The upper body is supposed to be a place of contemplation and prudence - putting the brakes on legislation passed in the heat of the moment in the House.

Not that the senate lives up to that standard, but scuttling the notion that the Senate is a deliberative body by destroying minority rights should not be allowed to stand.

Is it worth shutting down the government over? Considering the consequences, almost certainly yes.