WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that Democrats will pursue their plan to curb the use of filibusters to block legislation if the party and Republican lawmakers don't reach agreement on the matter this week.
A majority of Democrats -- at least 51 -- will vote for some filibuster procedural changes as long as those don't include requiring senators to hold the floor and talk endlessly, Mr. Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's second-ranking Democrat, said in interviews Wednesday.
Specifically, 51 Democrats would vote to eliminate use of the filibuster on motions to proceed to legislation, Mr. Durbin said. There would also be majority support for limiting, or disallowing altogether, use of the filibuster to block sending bills to conference with the House or limiting debate on judicial nominations, Mr. Durbin said.
Requiring senators who are filibustering to speak on the floor for as long as 30 hours of debate time could also have majority support, Mr. Durbin said.
Mr. Durbin didn't say whether there would be enough support to pass a proposal by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that would require at least 41 senators to cast votes to keep a filibuster going. That change, which he called the "Franken-wrinkle," would reverse the current process that requires those seeking to end a filibuster to record 60 votes.
Mr. Reid, D-Nev., said he is waiting for a response from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., before determining how to act on the procedural issue. Mr. Reid told reporters Tuesday that he would wait 24 to 36 hours to see if a bipartisan agreement could be reached. "If not, we're going to move forward on our own," he told reporters.
Mr. Reid wants to curtail the minority party's use of the filibuster that requires the supermajority of 60 votes to advance or pass legislation, rather than a 51-vote majority of the 100-member Senate. Democrats currently control 55 votes to 45 for the Republicans, meaning that when a filibuster is invoked, they need five GOP votes to advance legislation. Mr. Reid contends that changes are needed to keep Republicans from obstructing bills.
The filibuster was made famous in the 1939 film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." The title character, portrayed by James Stewart, collapses from exhaustion after speaking on the Senate floor for almost 24 hours nonstop to delay a vote on a bill during a dispute over corruption.
These days, senators seeking to block a bill don't take to the floor and speak for hours on end. Instead, Senate rules allow any member to object at multiple stages in the legislative process. A measure's proponent then can start a multi-day process, known as invoking cloture, to seek the 60 votes to move forward.
A central change that Mr. Reid has said he will seek is eliminating senators' ability to filibuster a request to bring a bill to the floor. Senate Democrats discussed potential changes at a closed-door Capitol Hill luncheon Tuesday, and lawmakers leaving it said no consensus was reached on a proposal.
Mr. Reid said that if Democrats and Republicans don't find accord on revising the filibuster this week, he will seek to change Senate rules with a tactic that would require 51 votes rather than the usual 67 votes, foreclosing the need for GOP support.
Some Democratic senators, including Oregon's Jeff Merkley and New Mexico's Tom Udall, propose requiring senators who want to filibuster a bill to hold the floor and speak until one side gives in. But Mr. Durbin said Wednesday that the "talking filibuster" idea lacks 51 votes to pass.
President Barack Obama's ability to carry out his second- term agenda may be in peril without a rule change, Mr. Merkley told reporters. "The president can't act on legislation if the Senate can't act on legislation." He suggested eliminating filibusters to block a request that the Senate and House form a conference committee to resolve differences between different versions of a bill.