All it took for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to come around to the idea of reforming the filibuster was a row over a little-known federal agency called the Export-Import Bank.
The filibuster is a parliamentary maneuver that empowers the minority to block legislation from coming up for a vote. Once reserved for hours-long speeches, like the late Sen. Strom Thurmond's historic filibuster of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1957, Reid blames Senate Republicans' recent use of the filibuster to block routine business. It has been an especially-potent tool for stymieing the White House's agenda in Congress.
Reid took to the floor Thursday to chide Republicans when Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona held up passage of a bill to keep the bank in operation, in order to request that the legislation require 60 votes and to introduce five amendments, one of which terminates the agency by June 2013.
Reid said the reauthorization legislation should move swiftly through the Senate, as the House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a version brokered by Republicans in the majority and Democratic leaders.
If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it's the filibuster rule, because it's been abused, abused, abused, Reid said.
Reid sought to pass the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization bill, which would keep the agency in operation through Septemeber 2015, by unanimous consent. The Ex-Im Bank offers U.S. businesses financing to beef up their exports. President Barack Obama has mentioned the agency during speeches about his agenda to bolster U.S. manufacturing.
With passage delayed, Reid admitted a mistake in refusing to heed warnings from junior Senate Democrats who called for filibuster reform before the January 2011 session. In the end, the reforms were scrapped after Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached an agreement on minor rules changes.
If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it's tonight. These two young fine senators said it was time to change the rules in the Senate and we didn't, Reid said. They were right and the rest of us were wrong.