OK

Two nice pieces of news on the Senate rules reform front today.

The first, from The Plum Line's Greg Sargent, who spoke to Jake Thompson, Chief of Staff to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and has this to report:

Thompson emails that in fact, Nelson is open to supporting Senator Tom Udall's filibuster reform plan, which was introduced yesterday, as "a starting point." He adds that Nelson recognizes that "clearly the Senate is dysfunctional and too often dilatory tactics are used to obstruct it from working for the American people."

What's more, Thompson says, Nelson isn't completely ruling out supporting doing reform by a simple majority, which may be necessary if Dems can't reach a deal with the GOP. When I asked whether this is something Nelson could support, Thompson told me: "Americans want Congress to work together, so the bipartisan work underway on filibuster reform won't be helped by saying what he might do if it fails."

That's better than yesterday. Nelson isn't willing to say yet that he is open to supporting filibuster reform by a simple majority, but chiefly because he's worried it will scuttle bipartisan nominations. And he is not ruling it out.

That is indeed better than yesterday. Nelson was, I think, largely misinterpreted yesterday. There's a lot of that going around, some of it perhaps quite willful, especially when it comes to differentiating between the question of invoking cloture on rules changes by a majority vote, versus doing so on any other kinds of votes. That's the kind of confusion creates openings for opponents of reform to claim that proposals like the Udall/Harkin/Merkley resolution would do away with the filibuster, which it very pointedly would not. While Nelson and others have reservations about creating a majority vote-only Senate -- something we've known for a long time -- it's not necessarily the case that he'd be opposed to other rules changes.

And with this clarification it seems, he's not necessarily opposed even to adopting those rules changes under special circumstances, possibly including majority cloture on debating the proposal. That would appear to put him more squarely in the reform camp than a simple clarification required. And that's good news.

As is this:

The Senate's top Democrat vowed to push ahead with filibuster reform with or without Republican support.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it's "very clear" that members of his party want to change Senate rules to weaken the filibuster.

"They believe, as I believe, that the rules have been abused," Reid said at the Capitol after a caucus meeting with Senate Democrats.

"We hope that Republicans see the light of day and would work with us," Reid added. "If not, we'll do it on our own."

Of course, the leading proposals for rules changes don't "weaken" the filibuster. That appears to be the reporter's formulation, not Reid's. But in any case, anyone following developments knows very well that the threshold for invoking cloture is likely to stay at 3/5ths.

More important that that, obviously, is the admonition that "we'll do it on our own."

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu Jan 06, 2011 at 04:36 PM PST.

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