The first official work day of the Senate has now lasted more than 450 hours because of a procedural trick Democrats are using with the hope of changing long-standing filibuster rules.
By extending the Jan. 3 opening day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has more time to work behind the scenes to gather support for his changes to the process, which would take away the minority party power to amend or block legislation.
Most Republicans and even some Democrats are opposed to tinkering with the filibuster rules, saying it would undermine the purpose of the Senate structure that protects minority views.
But only on the first day of the session can the rule be changed by a simple majority vote of 51 senators, nicknamed the “nuclear option.”
But it doesn’t look like Reid has the votes he needs from within his own party, so day one is expected to drag on for the 19th day while the Democrat meets with his caucus Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking on the Senate floor prior to the meeting, Reid characterized the previous congressional session as divided by sharp, political differences, but said he is “cautiously optimistic” the new Senate will be characterized by “cooperation and compromise.”
However, he said the only way they will “work more effectively is to change Senate rules.”
House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said returning to regular order was the surest way to solve problem of gridlock.
“Let’s face it, the status quo isn’t working,” McConnell said. “The Senate isn’t functioning as it should, and it has nothing to do with a process that has served us well for a very long time. But if we work together and strive to avoid some of the bad habits that have developed around here, I truly believe that we’ll be able to achieve the kinds of solutions that have eluded us for the past four years, and deliver some positive results for the people who sent us here.”
What Americans are not willing to tolerate, is the habit Congress has developed for putting off legislative solutions until the last minute, McConnell said.
“They’re tired of the eleventh hour deals, they’re tired of careening from crisis to crisis, and so am I,” McConnell said.
Reid said the changes are needed because the upper chamber, purposefully designed by the forefathers to proceed at a slow pace, was moving too slow.
Reid is not expected to change the rules that require a senator to remain speaking on the floor in order to hold the filibuster.
Some Democrats see filibuster reform, which would allow controversial legislation to pass with a majority or 51 votes without amendments from Republicans, as a way to pass gun control, immigration and climate change just to name some of the bills expected to come to the floor in the first few months.
“What we don’t want is the tyranny of the minority,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).