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Senate Dems Abandon Filibuster Reform

January 25, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Democrats’ cave-in on reforming the filibuster in the Senate appears to be complete. According to reports, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] is bringing a proposal to his fellow Democrats this afternoon that would do nothing to address the recent explosion in senators using procedural rules to kill bills just by threatening to filibuster. It apparently includes three minor changes in the Senate rules and is accompanied by a gentlemen’s agreement to start behaving more reasonably, sometimes. Here’s what’s in it.

Rules changes that will probably be codified in the rules —

  • Ending secret holds — The Democrats tried banning secret holds in 2007 when they took over power from the Republicans by requiring disclosure of the holding senator’s name within six days of the hold being isued, but it didn’t work because senators dodged the rule by teamimg up and trading holds back-and-forth every five days. Schumer’s proposal is expected to require disclosure of the holding senator within one day of the hold being placed.
  • Removing some presidential appointees from advice and consent consideration — In the past two years, Republicans have severally limited the Democrats’ ability to confirm presidential nominees by using their constitutional advice and consent powers to require hearings and cloture votes, even when the nominees in question are completely non-controversial. Schumer’s proposal would make some presidentially-appointed positions immune to this kind of dilatory action. Dave Dayen says it will be for about 100 nominees of the 1,400 that are pending.
  • End ability to force full readings of bills as a way to delay — Under current rules, each senator has the right to require a full reading of all amendments and bills when they are offered on the Senate floor. Since a lot of major legislation ends up getting done in the form of a substitute amendment to an unrelated bill, senators can use this power to basically shut down the chamber for several days when the majority party tries to bring it up something important (and lengthy).

Informal agreements accompanying the rules —

  • Less auto-filibustering — In the past four years that the Republicans have been in the minority, the threat to filibuster has become standard operating procedure for everything, even on the question of beginning debate. The effect has been that it takes much longer to take care of non-controversial business and bills that have a clear majority support are unable to pass because it takes a 3/5ths majority to overcome a filibuster threat. According to Schumer, as a supplement to the rules changes, Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY] will agree off-the-record to issue fewer filibuster threats.
  • Less amendment-tree filling — As a result of the auto-filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] has been blocking the minority’s ability to introduce dilatory and poison-pill amendments by filing the total number of allowable amendments himself and then not calling them up for votes. The unfortunate side effect is that senators who have serious amendments are unable to offer them and get a vote. In exchange for fewer filibuster threats from the Republicans, Schumer says that Reid is prepared to leave room for more amendments to be voted on.

And that’s it. This is really worlds away from the original idea that kicked off this whole effort — that a clear majority of senators should be able to legislate without stooping to the will of a clear minority at every step. According to Reid, theis mild derivative will be complete within the next 24 to 48 hours. The 60-vote Senate lives on!

Sen. Schumer is pictured above.

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