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Dick Durbin Backs Filibuster Reform

Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic Party Whip, has just thrown his weight behind an effort by Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jeanne Shahenn (D-NH) to reform the filibuster. From Greg Sargent:

Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker confirms to me that the Senator supports the new effort, which was unveiled yesterday by Senators Tom Harkin, and Jeanne Shaheen.

The Harkin proposal would officially amend the process by which a filibuster is broken, allowing a four-step process that could eventually allow it to be broken by a majority vote. The first vote would require 60 votes to break the filibuster, followed by motions requiring 57, 54, and finally, 51 votes.

The key is that Durbin is apparently playing an active role in backing the Harkin effort. A senior leadership aide tells me Durbin is “in talks with a number of other Democratic senators regarding possible changes to Senate rules.”

Their plan to reform the filibuster is to re-introduce a bill Harkin originally submitted in 1995. The first time the bill was brought to the floor, it failed, 19 to 76 with 5 not voting. It would have the threshold for cloture slowly lower to 51 votes over a period time. It would still give the minority party the power to slow down legislation, but end the power to effectively kill a bill with endless delay tactics and filibusters.

Dick Durbin’s support significantly increase the possibility of eventual reform of the Senate rules. If Harry Reid loses his bid for re-election in November, it is likely that Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer will become the new Senate majority leader.

While the Harkin-Shaheen bill will probably fail to get the 67 votes traditionally needed to make a Senate rules change in the middle of a Congress, it will likely be seen as a proxy vote. Tom Udall (D-NM) plans to call a point of order at the beginning of the next Congress to push for a new set of Senate rules at the start of the next Congress. This move will only require a simple majority to change the Senate rules.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at