Roll Call reports that the Senate voted 78-16 on Thursday to modify rules for debate. Liberals had pressed Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for stern action, but the final product was more moderate.
While the package falls far short of what a group of more liberal Democratic senators had sought, it should accomplish one of Reid’s stated goals: allowing business to progress more quickly. In no case, however, will senators lose the right to force a 60-vote supermajority vote on bills and nominations as provided under the existing rules.
Most significantly, the package modifies Senate procedure to provide two new expedited options for bringing legislation to the floor.
On legislative items on which Reid and McConnell agree to take up, the cloture vote on the motion to proceed would take place the day after the motion is filed, eliminating a waiting day. In addition, there would be no further debate after cloture is invoked, cutting out another day. That falls short of doing away with the ability to filibuster motions to proceed altogether. (Cloture motions, which limit debate, require 60 votes for adoption.)
Reid would have a second choice, however. The majority could proceed to legislation without risk of an initial filibuster if it guaranteed that each party is allowed to offer a pair of amendments. Partially resolving a concern publicly raised by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, amendments offered through that process would be subject to an automatic 60-vote threshold if they are not germane. That’s based on an idea from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich.Roll Call follows up:
In theory, the Nevada Democrat could use the new rules to bring up almost any piece of legislation, as long as he allowed Republicans to offer at least two amendments of their choosing. But in practice, political pressures may make him think twice before employing that tactic.
One senior GOP aide expressed doubt that Reid would regularly use the new power to sidestep filibusters on motions to proceed. After all, he would be giving the GOP the power to have a roll call vote on any topic, and Republicans have not been shy about pushing amendments they know put vulnerable Democratic incumbents in a difficult spot.
Of course, the new maneuver could also set up a quandary for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He would control the right to offer the Republican amendments, and the 45 members of his conference would undoubtedly be interested in getting their chance to address their issues.