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A screen capture of Jimmy Stewart's character holding a filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Mr. Smith won't be going to Washington.
The Senate just agreed, by a 78-16 vote, to the filibuster tinkering plan Harry Reid negotiated with Mitch McConnell. The bottom line is what Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) declared: It preserves the filibuster, and from the reformers' standpoint, doesn't make it much harder or much more painful. In an interview with Ezra Klein, Sen. Harry Reid explains why this is the route he took. Bottom line:
“I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold,” Reid (D-Nev.) told me this morning, referring to the number of votes needed to halt a filibuster. “With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn’t and shouldn’t be like the House.” [...]

“The only way we’ll get rid of the filibuster is if it continues to be abused,” he said. “Hopefully, what we’ll do here will stop some of the abuse, but what will happenif the minority continues to abuse the rules is we won’t get rid of the filibuster, but we’ll go to something like what [Sen. Tom] Harkin has pushed, where one vote is at 57, and then another vote is at 55.”

There's little question now that it could have been much stronger, if you can believe Democratic senators who can count. Reid wasn't prepared to pull the trigger. David Waldman has the best explanation of what we got instead:

The standing rules will adopt a new short cut on the motion to proceed, bringing it to an immediate vote if a cloture petition garners the signatures of the Majority and Minority Leaders, plus those of 7 Senators not affiliated with the majority and 7 more not affiliated with the minority, and cloture is then invoked. What does that save? Well, not much. Thirty hours of post-cloture debate, potentially. Though in reality that time is often waived under the current rules. In addition, the rules will now reflect that the three motions necessary to go to conference with the House to settle differences in bill text will be collapsed into one non-divisible motion. That cuts out two opportunities to filibuster right there.

The standing order will, for the next two years, limit debate on motions to proceed to four hours, meaning they can't be filibustered. But in exchange for that, each side is guaranteed the right to offer two amendments apiece, rotating in order and beginning with the minority. In practice, this will likely mean that those amendments will frequently come to the floor under unanimous consent agreements requiring 60 votes to pass. That's the old "painless filibuster," and in that respect, not much will have changed from current practice, except that the chief complaint of Republicans will have been removed.

And there's the informal agreement that requires senators who want to filibuster come to the floor and say so. That's the kind of handshake agreement that has been so futile in the past, but at least exists now for Reid to point to when, as is inevitable, he needs to justify another rules reform push. Because that will happen, and we'll still be here to fight for it, as will Sens. Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall.

5:48 PM PT (Hunter): Second vote on filibuster changes (second part of the same package) passes 86-9.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 05:19 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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