WASHINGTON — A Democratic-led drive to limit the power of the filibuster to stall legislation faded Thursday in favor of more modest reforms, showing that not even an era of unprecedented political obstruction could persuade senators to change the way they do business.
The Senate beat back legislation championed by junior Democratic members who have grown frustrated with the ability of a single senator to block legislation unless a supermajority of 60 can be mustered, a tactic the Republican minority has used to great success.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has long championed reducing the supermajority needed to break a filibuster to a simple majority of 51 votes. But his colleagues rejected that idea Thursday, 84-12.
Both of Florida's senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, voted against limiting the filibuster rules.
"Both parties appear to be afraid of majority rule . . . (they) fear the American people," Harkin said.
But with Republicans now in control of 47 seats in the Senate, Democrats can envision scenarios in which just four more votes would be needed to overturn President Barack Obama's signature achievements, or to advance GOP initiatives coming from the GOP-controlled House.
And with nearly two dozen Democratic Senate seats up in the 2012 election, the prospect of a GOP majority is in sight.
So senators overwhelmingly agreed to modest changes that would no longer allow senators to anonymously block bills or engage in a favorite stall tactic: reading entire texts of legislation on the Senate floor as was done last year to stall President Barack Obama's health care bill, so long as the amendment has been posted 72 hours.