Senate Leaders Trying to Reach Agreement on Rule Reforms

Top Democratic and “Republican senators, negotiating proposed reforms of the use of filibusters and other legislative stalling tactics, are close to an agreement on modest changes to curb the practices but not eliminate them altogether, two Senate aides said,” CNN reports.

Despite increased public attention to the often-controversial procedures, supporters of reform don’t appear to have enough bipartisan support to force sweeping changes, the aides said. Much of the opposition to the changes comes from senior senators who have seen party control of the Senate switch several times and are wary about giving up the considerable rights available to the minority.

Instead, Senate “negotiators — led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee — are considering at least three smaller changes aimed at preventing individual senators from clogging up the Senate’s legislative pipeline.”

  1. “Under the emerging deal, senators would still be able to put a ‘hold’ on nominations and legislation — and therefore prevent quick votes on them — but instead of remaining anonymous for several days as current rules allow, the name of a senator who employs a hold would be made public right away. Supporters of this reform believe that senators will be less likely to drag out a dispute if they need to defend it publicly.”
  2. “In an effort to reduce the Senate’s workload, senators also are considering scaling back the large number of presidential appointees who need their confirmation. Supporters believe that reducing the number of typically noncontroversial nominees will streamline the Senate’s calendar and provide fewer opportunities for holds and filibusters.”
  3. “Negotiators are also considering, one of the aides said, eliminating a senator’s ability to demand that entire bills be read aloud on the Senate floor, another stalling tactic that’s occasionally employed, to the distress of the vocal cords of Senate clerks.”

Schumer and Alexander “plan to present their proposals to their respective caucuses Tuesday.”

But POLITICO notes that the “three Democrats who proposed sweeping changes to Senate filibuster rules balked Monday at a scaled-down package negotiated by Senate leaders and called for a vote this week on their own reform plan.”

Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Harkin of Iowa are adamant that their proposal can be adopted by a simple majority of 51 senators rather than the usual 67 required for rules changes, using a controversial legislative tool known as the “constitutional option.”


It’s unclear, however, if all the talk is simply posturing. And others have warned that invoking the constitutional option – and holding a party-line vote on the changes – could come back to haunt Democrats if they lose the majority in 2012, leaving Republicans with broad authority to set rules.


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Filed under Nominations, Rules & Traditions

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