The Last Word | January 25, 2013
>>> last night at about 7:45, filibuster reform officially died, and died for a lot of reasons. one reason has to do with that advantage the republicans have developed, the congressional elections. the republicans already control the house over the last 55 years, all second term presidents who saw them lose seats in the second term. and for president obama , 2014 . and democrats have a very uphill road in the senate , 21 seats held by democrats, of those 21, seven are in states mitt romney won in november. the bottom line, filibuster reform is always going to be the tough sell even for the party in power, because they don't know when they will be in the minority again. for the senate it may be soon. but last year, filibuster reforms seemed to be possible.
>> these two young fine senators, said that it was time we changed the rules in the senate . we didn't. they were right, the rest of us were wrong. or most of us now, anyway. what a shame. if it were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it is filibuster rules. because it has been abused, abused and abused.
>> but senator reid's enthusiasm eventually settled on a more modest set of reforms. he told me he was not ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold, although it could be said their package did not do so either. he struck a deal with mcconnell, and last night, they overwhelmly agreed to speed how they consider legislation in the senate . so the deal makes it work faster and more efficiently. and cuts down the time a bill could be used after it passed the house and senate , now it just needs to be reconciled. what is missing, the actual filibuster itself. two men, who know it like nobody else . norm orenstein, an american scholar at the american institute . the title of the book " even worse than it looks." great to see you.
>> great to see you, wonderful seeing you, ezra .
>> tell me, norm, why did filibuster reform not go the way the reformers had hoped?
>> i think there are a couple of reasons, ezra , one is, this is not the right time for it for some of the reasons you mentioned. but also with the house in the hands of republicans, if you use the so-called nuclear option , causing a lot of disruption in the senate , maybe you could pass a bunch of legislation through the senate it is not going to go anywhere in the house anyway. so you do the cost benefit analysis , of whether or not pushing further would make sense. and harry reid just didn't think it made any sense. and what he opted for and said was something that would give more efficiency to the senate and a little bit more traction for nominations for the president. and viewed that as something where you could get bipartisan support and move on from there. and finally, he is leaving open the option of going to something much further if this current system continues to be abused.
>> so tom, let's talk about those changes for a minute here. senator reid's office argues that they will make a big difference in how the senate is able to get on to a bill. right now it can take a week before the time you say i want to consider giving the grant, to the time you could actually begin to consider it, which is clearly a little bit long. do you think these reforms will actually change the way the senate works in a significant way?
>> not in a significant way. i mean, the reality is the 60 vote for closure to close off filibuster rule is still there, without touching that it is likely we'll still see the use of the filibuster by the minority party . we'll still see individuals abusing it. it does give the majority leader another option for moving legislation to the floor, and therefore controlling the agenda a bit. and in that sense, one of the things that really irritated harry reid was the -- was the time wasted through the procedural requirements for filing, cloture petitions, voting on them, the post-cloture debate, and the like, he now has a way out of that. of course, he had to pay something, of guaranteeing two amendments to the minority, which might be used for purely wedge political issues. but it is something, and he also has an opportunity with some nominations to dramatically cut down on the post-cloture debate time to block some nominations and really move them through more quickly. so in that sense, there are some advantages. but i think the biggest changes that the -- the incentive now is for the public to -- to keep an eye on this for other groups. they're finally aware of the super majority hurdle in the senate that was never anticipated by the framers. and it may begin to sort of increase political pressure on mcconnell to use it less than he has.
>> well, one thing that i think is interesting on that, norm, one of the things i found in the reporting here, a lot of senior democrats, this is true for a look time. it remains true today, they really like the filibuster, despite the fact it caused them no headaches in the last couple of years. they really think the threat of the filibuster is an important piece of the architecture and it should be preserved. i think a lot of folks wonder why, why wouldn't they want it to be a majority senate ? so walk me through it. because you talk to these folks. what is the case for it among the more established members of the institution?
>> well, if you think of what is going on in a number of state legislatures , and look at what happened in virginia. if you have a republican party that gains even by the narrowest of margins, the republican party , they have a willingness and ability to jam through some remarkable and revolutionary things. democrats in the senate , the senior ones who spent plenty of time in the minority, they have been in the minority when george w. bush had republican majorities in both houses. they saw the tax cuts go through, they have seen other instances where they're fearful enough that the worm will turn, and they want to be in a position where they can use their minority status for leverage. and if you put that together with the other reality, ezra , which is that all the other 100 senators who have egos like to use holds, sometimes even with their own president, to block action on a nomination. to give them a 2 x 4 across the forehead to gain something that may be entirely extranneous.
>> thank you.
>> the part of the election that people couldn't just start -- stop talking about. it was beyonce, and that is