Discuss as:

Opponents of filibuster reform point to the past

From NBC's Ken Strickland
When the 112th session of the Senate begins tomorrow morning, Democrats' first order of legislative business will be an effort to change the Senate rules, limiting the minority party’s ability to filibuster or block legislation.

But Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is reminding Democrats they fought this fight before, almost 15 years to the day, and lost soundly.

In a op-ed written for Wednesday's Washington Post, McConnell recalls the first vote of the 104th Congress on January 5, 1995. It was a bill offered by Democratic Sen.Tom Harkin that would have allowed a simple majority of 51 votes to break a filibuster instead of the 60 this is required under current Senate rules.

That proposal failed by a vote of 76-19.

When the vote was taken in 1995, Republicans had just regained the majority for the first time in 40 years. In the short term, it would have been advantageous for the newly empowered Republicans to support the rule change, thus giving the GOP an extraordinary opportunity to push their agenda without a threat of a Democratic filibuster.

But every Republican voted against it.

"What every Republican senator, and many Democratic senators, realized at the time was that any attempt by a sitting majority to grasp at power would come back to haunt us," McConnell writes. "Even worse, any rule change aimed at making it easier for one party to force legislation through the Senate with only a slim partisan majority would undermine the Senate's unique role as a moderating influence and put a permanent end to bipartisanship."

Of the Democrats who voted with Republicans back in 1995, ten are still serving: Majority Leader Harry Reid, Daniel Akaka, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Dianne Feinstein, Daniel Inouye, Herb Kohl, Carl Levin, Barbara Mikulski, and Patty Murray.

Sponsors of filibuster reform will officially introduce their plan Wednesday, although no action is expected until after the Senate returns from their two week recess. But it's unclear if backers of the changes have the votes to change the rules. And while Reid has not vocally discouraged the proposal, his support so far appears lukewarm.

"Senator Reid understands the concerns of Senators and the American people about the ability for a small minority of the minority to prevent the Senate from legislating,” said Reid spokesperson Regan Lachapelle, adding that reform is “an issue that Senator Reid will continue to look at.”

In the waning days of the last Congress, retiring Sen. Chris Dodd acknowledged his Democratic colleagues’ "anger with the repetitive use and abuse of the filibuster," but he noted that many of the most vocal supporters of the rules change are first term senators who have never served in the minority.

“Whether such temptation [to change the rules] is motivated by noble desire to speed up the legislative process or by pure political expediency, I believe such changes would be unwise," Dodd said.

Msnbc.com's Carrie Dann contributed to this report.