Senate Reaches Bipartisan Pact to Reform Rules

By Matt Jaffe

Jan 27, 2011 1:57pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

With the Senate repeatedly mired in partisan gridlock and bogged down in procedural delays, Democrat and Republican leaders today reached an agreement to try to make the upper chamber run more smoothly.

But it’s nowhere near as drastic an overhaul as some lawmakers had hoped for.

For all the talk earlier this month about the push for sweeping reforms to severely limit filibusters, ultimately the biggest move was ending the so-called “secret holds” that lawmakers can put on legislation or nominees.

“Senators will no longer be able to hide and the light of day will shine harder on the Senate as a body,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today on the chamber’s floor.

In all, the five-point deal reached by Reid and the Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell will: end secret holds; reduce by about one-third the number of presidential nominees subject to confirmation; and forbid senators from requiring the reading of lengthy amendments in an effort to kill time. The remaining two elements of the deal are a gentleman’s agreement for the majority to cut down on blocking minority amendments and in turn for the minority to cut down on filibustering motions to proceed.

“They’ll move us five steps closer to a healthier Senate,” Reid said of the changes. “In the minds of some, not far enough. In the minds of others, too far.”

The Senate will hold votes later today on some of the moves, but those votes appear to be a mere formality in the wake of the bipartisan pact.

“Everyone wanted to come to an agreement,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY. “Everyone wanted to see the Senate work better.”

However, stronger proposals to reduce the ability of the minority party to filibuster legislation never got the support they needed to make any real headway. So rather than fight over trying to make a drastic overhaul of Senate rules, in the end lawmakers opted to settle for more minor changes.

Going forward, both Reid and McConnell promised not to use the so-called “Constitutional option” to change Senate rules with a simple majority vote of 51 senators, rather than the customary threshold of 67.

 

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