Democrats and Republicans in the Senate overwhelmingly agreed late Thursday on language reforming filibusters, passing the measures agreed to earlier in the day by Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
The two leaders proposed to their caucuses earlier a list of reforms to curb the use of filibusters and streamline other procedures in order to speed up floor action. The measures required the support of each party’s caucus.
Neither Democratic senators nor a GOP aide said members had voiced major issues with the proposals prior to the vote.
A filibuster is a tactic used in the Senate to delay or prevent a vote on legislation. Reid and McConnell’s measure, according to one Senate aide, offered a compromise to reduce the number of filibusters while ensuring the minority party gets votes on some amendments.
The proposal allows for two paths that could be used to begin debate on legislation, avoiding filibusters designed to prevent debate from actually taking place.
In the first path, Reid would allow two amendments from both parties to be presented, with the caveat that if an amendment isn’t relevant to the legislation at hand, it would be subject to a 60-vote threshold.
On measures where Reid and McConnell agree, a second path allows votes to overcome filibusters to be held the day after Reid files a procedural petition, instead of the two-day period currently in place. That change would disallow stalled votes on consensus legislation.
The new procedure also limits debate on some presidential nominations that require Senate approval.
Senate Democrats have complained that the minority Republicans deliberately overused the filibuster to block Democratic legislation.
A group of junior Senate Democrats pushed Reid to pass broad reforms — including reinstating the requirement that senators conducting a filibuster speak continuously on the floor — by using a controversial method to change the body’s rules that Republicans called the “nuclear option.” That method to change the Senate rules would require just 51 votes instead of the 67 customarily required.
Republicans, furious they might be jammed, argued the filibuster is the only leverage they have to get roll call votes on amendments that otherwise are routinely denied them by the majority Democrats.
The measure went to a vote and passed without Democrats invoking the “nuclear option.”
“No party has ever broken the rules of the Senate to change those rules. I’m glad such an irreparably damaging precedent will not be set today,” McConnell said in a statement as the vote became clear. “We’ve avoided the nuclear option, and we’ve reiterated that any changes to the Standing Rules of the Senate still require 67 votes to end debate.”
Republicans had said if Democrats pushed the reforms through the “nuclear option,” it would have destroyed relations between the two parties and lead to massive gridlock in the chamber.
President Barack Obama issued a statement after the vote saying he hoped “today’s bipartisan agreement will pave the way for the Senate to take meaningful action in the days and weeks ahead.”
“Too often over the past four years, a single senator or a handful of senators has been able to unilaterally block or delay bipartisan legislation for the sole purpose of making a political point,” he said. The statement specifically identified Obama’s desire the Senate consider legislation on gun violence, immigration and the economy.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, said he voted against the measure because it does not go far enough. Under the agreement that he called “weak,” members “continue to have the right to abuse arcane Senate rules to block a majority of senators from acting on behalf of the American people.”
A bipartisan group of senior members, led by Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Carl Levin, D-Michigan, offered the alternative compromise that became part of Reid and McConnell’s proposal.
“We are going to change the way we do business here,” Reid said Wednesday. “We can do it either the easy way or the hard way but it’s going to change.”
By Ted Barrett
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