Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

The White House is "encouraged" by signs that Republicans are moving away from their debt ceiling demands and called on Congress to cleanly authorize an increase in the nation's borrowing limit, said spokesman Jay Carney.

"The President has made clear that Congress has only two options: pay the bills they have racked up, or fail to do so and put our nation into default," Carney said in a statement. "We are encouraged that there are signs that Congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle class families depend on. Congress must pay its bills and pass a clean debt limit increase without further delay. And as he has said, the President remains committed to further reducing the deficit in a balanced way."

The Senate filibuster has been used sparingly throughout most of U.S. history. But several times when the minority has abused the tool, the majority has responded by changing the rules. History may soon repeat itself.

The filibuster, as originally designed, did not allow the majority party to call for a motion to end debate -- senators could obstruct endlessly. That changed early in the 20th century, after the minority escalated its use of the filibuster toward the end of congressional sessions, running out the clock when the majority did not have the luxury of waiting.

In 1917, a Senate majority changed the rules to make it possible for the majority to end debate. The new rule set "cloture" at 67 senators.

In the 1960s, around the time of civil rights legislation, the minority began to use the filibuster with increased frequency. In 1975, a frustrated Senate majority again responded by changing the rules, lowering the cloture threshold to 60 votes -- where it has remained ever since.

Nearly four decades later, the minority's use of the filibuster has risen to previously unimaginable levels, growing under both Democratic and Republican majorities.

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Nadeam Elshami, a longtime spokesman and senior adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), will soon become her chief of staff, Elshami confirmed to TPM.

He will succeed John Lawrence, who is retiring.

Updated: 2:05 P.M.

The filibuster reform endgame is coming into focus.

Reformers are closing ranks behind a more modest proposal by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that they believe could pass with a 51-vote threshold when the Senate returns next week and chip away at the minority party's power to obstruct. It represents a concession that the full "talking filibuster" they want may not happen. But accepting the emerging Reid proposal would ward off a competing plan that they consider weaker than Reid's.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) says he's still fighting for the talking filibuster and believes it can pass. His aide said he isn't convinced the Reid plan would take on the core problems of the Senate, but Merkley didn't rule it out.

"I believe that when Majority Leader Reid says, 'Here is my package and I need you all to back it,' he will have 51 votes behind him," Merkley told TPMPrime members during a live chat Wednesday.

Leaders of Fix The Senate Now, an outside pro-reform coalition, also prefer a more robust talking filibuster, but have signaled openness to embracing the Reid plan, wary of seeing the whole effort to reform the filibuster collapse.

"We're optimistic that some good changes are going to happen," said Shane Larson, the legislative director for Communications Workers For America, whose group has already spent more than $300,000 on TV ads in the D.C. area pushing filibuster reform. "We're very optimistic that we're going to get there, that we'll have 51 votes to put this through."

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Fix The Senate Now, a coalition of advocacy groups supportive of weakening the filibuster, hasn't given up on pushing for a full "talking filibuster" plan but is keeping its options open, a spokesperson for the coalition told TPM late Wednesday.

"While we await the actual package of reforms proposed by Senator Reid, the Fix the Senate Now coalition believes a post-cloture ‘talking filibuster’ provision would not go far enough to cut down on silent obstruction," said the spokesperson, Michael Earls. "However, we remain optimistic that Senator Reid’s ultimate reform proposal will acknowledge these concerns, also expressed by reform-minded leaders like Senator Merkley, and will advance Senate changes that raise the costs of Senate obstruction, while speeding up the legislative and confirmation processes."

The coalition, like other reform advocates, isn't ruling out supporting a less far-reaching version of filibuster reform.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) praised President Obama's push for new gun proposals Wednesday.

"If you look at the combination of likelihood of passage and effectiveness of curbing gun crime, universal background checks is at the sweet spot," he said in a statement. "We’re glad the President put such emphasis on it, and we look forward to working with him on this and other proposals to make our nation safer from the scourge of gun violence."

The public option is back ... sort of.

House Democrats on Tuesday introduced the "Public Option Deficit Reduction Act," which would provide consumers the choice to opt into a government-run health insurance plan in the Obamacare exchanges.

The bill, which almost certainly cannot pass in the Republican-controlled House, is a mostly symbolic effort meant to keep the public option alive as a policy prescription. It is sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who is on the Energy & Commerce health subcommittee, along with Energy & Commerce Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and 43 other lawmakers.

"The Public Option Deficit Reduction Act will give health care consumers more choice and lower their premiums," said Schakowsky. "And, by providing a lower-cost alternative to private insurance, it would put pressure on all insurers to lower their premiums in order to compete."

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House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) spokesman Michael Steel responded Wednesday to President Obama's newly unveiled proposals for gun control.

"House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations," Steel said in a statement. "And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), a leading champion of filibuster reform, told TPMPrime members during a live chat Wednesday that Democrats will have the votes to weaken the minority party's power to obstruct when the Senate returns next week.

"There are a number of folks who are working to get their hands around how these proposed changes would work in practice," he said. "Senator Udall -- my core partner throughout this battle -- and I both believe that when Majority Leader Reid says 'here is my package and I need you all to back it,' he will have 51 votes behind him."

He said the only clear holdout among the 55 Democrats is Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).

"News reports have had a reasonably accurate list of the Senators who are solidly there and those who are still working out the details," Merkley said. "As of this point, the only person who has said that he will definitely oppose Reid's package if it is to be done with 51 votes is Senator Levin." He added that Levin has held his views for many years.

The Oregon Democrat, who has enlisting outside allies for the cause, said the competing proposal by Levin and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would be a step backward.

"I don't see Levin/McCain as a step forward because it doesn't address the silent secret filibuster that the minority uses to kill legislation. In addition, it introduces the poison pill problem," Merkley told TPMPrime. "It is important to recognize, however, that Senator Levin is being completely consistent with the position he took in 2005 when the Republicans threatened to change the rules to eliminate the filibuster on judges. The Republicans only agreed to pull back from changing the rules, however, when the Democrats essentially agreed to what the Republicans wanted making changing the rules unnecessary."