By Alexander Bolton - 01/24/13 05:49 PM EST
Senate leaders have reached a tentative deal to reform the chamber’s filibuster rule, averting a partisan blowup over the issue but leaving liberal Democrats unsatisfied.
The deal crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has received broad support from the Democratic caucus and could pass Thursday in the late afternoon or evening. A Senate GOP aide said members of the Republican conference are still reviewing it.
That reform will not be included. Nor will a proposal to shift the onus of continuing a filibuster by requiring the minority party to muster 41 votes to sustain one.
Instead, Reid and McConnell have agreed to a series of modest changes designed to speed up the pace of business on the Senate floor but still allow disgruntled lawmakers to wage filibusters with ease.
Udall said he would support it, despite strong disappointment expressed by liberal allies.
“I’m going to vote for the proposals. This is progress. It’s moving us in the right direction,” he said.
The Reid-McConnell package would create a new path for eliminating filibusters on motions to proceed to new business. Under current rules, a senator can hold up a motion to even begin debating legislation.
The majority leader would be able to bar a filibuster on a motion to proceed if he allows each side to vote on two amendments, according to a Senate aide familiar with the package. Non-germane amendments would be subject to a 60-vote threshold, under this scenario.
This change would be adopted as a standing order that would sunset after two years, creating a trial period. Sixty senators must vote for it.
Alternatively, the deal would allow for expedited consideration of motions to proceed in cases where the majority and minority leaders agree to bring up a measure and eight senators from each party — including the leaders – sign a petition to end debate. Such fast-track consideration of motions to proceed would be set up by permanent rules change requiring 67 votes.
The tentative deal would expedite the process for sending legislation to conference negotiations with the House. But lawmakers would still be allowed to filibuster any effort to send legislation to a Senate-House negotiation.
Currently, senators can filibuster three separate motions to go to conference. The proposed reform would collapse those into one motion subject to filibuster. It would reduce the time allocated to go to conference from 30 hours to 2 hours.
It would speed the confirmation of sub-Cabinet executive branch nominees and district-court judicial nominees by reducing debate time. Post-cloture debate time would be reduced to eight hours for sub-Cabinet executive branch nominees and two hours for district-court nominees, said a Senate aide.
This will allow Reid to stack up President Obama’s district-court nominees and have a vote on one every hour, said Udall.
In return for these concessions from McConnell, Reid will hold off from using the nuclear option to change Senate rules unilaterally. The controversial tactic allows the majority leader to change the Senate rules with a simple majority vote.
Under regular order, it takes 67 votes to enact a permanent rules change. Sixty votes are required to modify the rules under a standing order.
Reid and McConnell have also agreed to some informal changes intended to push senators to play a more active role if they choose to filibuster legislation or nominees, according to a Senate aide familiar with the talks.
This would prevent a senator from attempting to filibuster a bill or nominee from his or her office — or even from another country. In 2006, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) filibustered Samual Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Bill managers and the Senate leaders will from now on ask senators who want to hold up a bill or nominee to come to the floor to announce their objection.
The leaders will henceforth require lawmakers to actually debate on the floor if they seek to slow the agenda by using a full allocation of time after the Senate has voted to end a filibuster.
A coalition of liberal and good-government groups advocating for filibuster reform expressed dismay over the emerging deal.
"This is a bad decision based on fear -- a decision that will ultimately hurt millions of people who would have been helped by progressive bills that Republicans are sure to filibuster,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “For a guy who has been admirably strong on issues like protecting Social Security benefits from cuts, this decision is unfortunately weak."
Earlier this week, PCCC launched a 36-hour lobbying campaign pressing Democrats to use the nuclear option to mandate talking filibusters.
“Unfortunately, the incremental ‘reforms’ in the agreement do not go nearly far enough to deliver meaningful change,” the Fix the Senate Now coalition said in a statement. “If the agreement proceeds as expected, Senator Reid and the entire chamber will have missed an opportunity to restore accountability and deliberation to the Senate, while not raising the costs of obstruction.”
Democratic senators had come under strong pressure from groups in recent weeks to endorse the talking filibuster reform.
Fix the Senate Now sent over 2.5 million emails to the members of its network, which led to Senate offices receiving 100,000 phone calls and one million petition signatures.
The coalition includes the Alliance for Justice, the Brennan Center, the Communications Workers for America, Common Cause, the Sierra Club, United Auto Workers and Voices for Progress.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Wednesday that Reid could not muster 51 Democratic votes to trigger the nuclear option to require talking filibusters.
- Updated at 12:50 and 4:20 p.m.