WASHINGTON — A brewing and potentially bitter fight over Democratic efforts to curb filibusters is threatening to inflame partisan tensions in the Senate, even as President Barack Obama and Republicans explore whether they can compromise on top tier issues such as debt reduction and taxes.
A potential showdown vote to limit Senate filibusters would not come until January. Democrats are threatening to resort to a seldom-used procedure that could let them change the rules without GOP support, all but inviting Republican retaliation.
That fight is looming as the newly re-elected Obama and GOP leaders prepare to use the lame-duck session of Congress that starts Tuesday to hunt for compromise on the “fiscal cliff" — the nearly $700 billion worth of tax increases and spending cuts next year that automatically begin in January unless lawmakers head them off.
That effort will be contentious enough without added animosity over efforts to weaken the filibuster. Unless a filibuster compromise is reached, the dispute could produce sour partisan feelings that might hinder cooperation on legislation when the new Congress begins work in January.
Filibusters are a procedural tactic that lets the minority party block bills that lack the support of at least 60 senators. Democrats seem likely to command a 55-45 majority in the new Senate, making 60 a difficult hurdle.
Frustrated by the GOP’s growing use of filibusters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering a Senate vote in the new year to limit their use.
“I think that the rules have been abused and that we’re going to work to change them," Reid, D-Nev., told reporters this past week. “We’re not going to do away with the filibuster, but we’re going to make the Senate a more meaningful place, we’re going to make it so that we can get things done."