By Alexander Bolton - 01/27/11 07:17 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) have reached an agreement on changing the Senate rules to speed up the pace of legislative business.
As part of the compromise, announced Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor, Reid and McConnell agreed not to use the so-called "constitutional option" in this Congress or the next one to change Senate rules by a simple-majority vote.
The number of executive branch positions subject to confirmation will be reduced by about a third. The Senate now must confirm about 1,400 job appointments in the executive branch, according to a Senate aide familiar with the deal.
Senators will no longer be allowed to force chamber clerks to read aloud amendments if those amendments have been posted ahead of time for public review.
Reid and McConnell have also entered into a gentlemen’s agreement to reduce the frequency of filibusters of motions to begin consideration of legislation.
McConnell has also promised to reduce the number of times the minority will block efforts to begin debate on legislation. Reid, in exchange, has pledged to limit the number of times he will refuse Republicans opportunities to offer amendments.
“Just as I will exercise restraint, he and his Republican conference will curtail their habit of filibustering the motion to proceed,” Reid said. “This should be the exception rather than the rule.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the leading Senate advocate for reforming filibuster rules, praised the deal.
“Those are good steps,” Udall said.
McConnell said he hoped the Senate would begin working more efficiently and members of the minority party will have more opportunity to offer amendments.
“I’m optimistic that my good friend, the majority leader, and I can convince our colleagues that we ought to get back to operating as the Senate did as recently as three or four years ago when bills came up and they were open for amendment, and we voted on amendments, and at some point the bill would be completed,” McConnell said. “I think it’s the right way for the Senate to operate.”
In a statement, Reid said: “We are making these changes in the name of compromise, and this agreement itself was constructed with the same respect for mutual concession. Senator McConnell and I both believe that our reverence for this institution must always be more important than party. And as part of this compromise, we have agreed that I won’t force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate – that is, the so-called ‘constitutional option’ – and he won’t in the future. The five reforms we are making, however, are significant. They will move us five steps closer to a healthier Senate.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, also praised the agreement.
“While we didn’t get everything we wanted to, the Senate will be a significantly better place with these changes,” Schumer said. “As a result of this agreement, there should be more debate, more votes and fewer items blocked by a single senator or a small minority of senators. Make no mistake about it: this agreement is not a panacea, but it is a very significant step on the road to making the Senate function in a better, fairer way."