Washington (CNN) - Senate negotiations over filibuster reform could come to a head as early as Thursday, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is threatening to ram through broad reforms unless a deal is struck soon with Republicans.
Reid wants GOP Leader Mitch McConnell to accept a modified list of reforms that would curb the use of filibusters and streamline other procedures in order to speed up floor action.
Democrats complain that the minority Republicans deliberately overuse the filibuster to block Democratic legislation. A group of junior Senate Democrats wants Reid to pass broad reforms – including reinstating the requirement that senators conducting a filibuster speak continuously on the floor – by using a controversial method that would change Senate rules with just 51 votes instead of the 67 customarily required.
Republicans, furious they might be jammed, argue the filibuster is the only leverage they have to get roll call votes on amendments that otherwise are routinely denied them by the majority Democrats. They say if Democrats push the reforms through on 51 votes – what Republicans call the “nuclear option” – it will destroy relations between the two parties and lead to massive gridlock in the chamber.
A bipartisan group of senior members, led by Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Carl Levin, D-Michigan, has offered an alternative compromise that would reduce the number of filibusters while ensuring the minority party gets votes on some amendments.
“We are going to change the way we do business here,” Reid said Wednesday. “We can do it either the easy way or the hard way but it’s going to change.”
Reid, who said Tuesday he expects talks with McConnell to conclude in 24 to 36 hours, insists he has the 51 votes needed to pass the reforms if Republicans don’t agree to a compromise.
In his most recent proposal to McConnell, Reid offered to eliminate filibusters on several procedural measures and to scale back the amount of time allowed to debate a nominee once that nomination has overcome a filibuster.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said Reid did not propose requiring senators to speak throughout a filibuster because the idea does not have the support of 51 senators.
The second-ranking Democrat said Reid and McConnell “are not that far apart” and he is hopeful a deal will be reached soon.