Scaled-down filibuster reform looks like a done deal
A Senate aide emails an outline of the final deal on a scaled-down filibuster reform packaged reached between Dem and GOP leaders, and it will be voted on today:
Under the terms of the agreement the senate will hold votes on:
* Eliminating secret holds, including the right of senators to pass their secret holds to another anonymous senator to keep a rolling secret hold.
* Eliminating senators rights to force the reading of an amendment that has already been submitted for 72 hours and is publicly available.
* Legislation to exempt about 1/3 of all nominations from the Senate confirmation process, reducing the number of executive nominations subject to Senate delays, which will be scheduled at a future date under the terms of an agreement reached by Sens. Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman and HSGA ranking member Sen. Susan Collins, along with Sens. Reid and Chuck Schumer.
Key things missing from this package: The "talking filibuster," which would force Senators to actually filibuster, and the elimination of the filibuster on the so-called "motion to proceed." As noted here recently, Dem and GOP leaders reached a deal by which they would not pass the broader package favored by reformers via the "Constitutional option," i.e., by simple majority. Instead, they agreed to pass the scaled-down package with 67 votes and broad bipartisan support. Dems were uncomfortable with the "Constitutional option" and it seemed unlikely that even 51 Dem Senators would vote for it.
Indeed, Harry Reid spelled out on the floor of the Senate just now that it would set a better precedent to pass rules reform via compromise. He dded that he'd reached a deal with McConnell wherein McConnell, too, vowed not to pass rules changes via a simple majority should the GOP take back the upper chamber.
"We've agreed that I won't force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate," Reid said. "And he won't in the future."
There will still be votes today on the more ambitious package of reforms favored by Tom Harkin, Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley, but no one expects them to garner the necessary 67 votes. However, as Steve Benen notes, forcing votes on the bigger package will raise the issue's visibility and put Senators on the record. We'll soon see how far individual Senators are willing to go in reforming an institution that confers enormous power on them but has become largely dysfunctional.
Getting some sort of reform done at least allows reformers to get a foot in the door, and could provide the foundation for future reforms. Of course, future opportunities may not present themselves anytime soon, and if the historic levels of obstructionism and dysfunction of the last two years weren't enough to build support for more ambitious reform, it's hard to imagine what would be enough.
That said, the glass-half-full point to make here is that the issue has gained far more discussion and attention than anyone thought possible even six months ago, and those pushing rules reform along deserve big props for that.
UPDATE, 1:55 p.m.: A quick clarification: The votes on the secret holds and waiving of the reading of bills only require 60 to pass, because they're part of the deal Reid and McConnell reached. The votes on the broader reform proposals require 67 to pass, because they're not part of the deal.
| January 27, 2011; 1:03 PM ET
Categories: Senate Dems, Senate Republicans, filibuster
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