Senate passes organizing resolution after Schumer-McConnell deal
The Senate formally passed a resolution organizing the chamber on Wednesday, roughly two weeks after Democrats took back the majority.
Passage of the resolution, which happened by unanimous consent, came hours after Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had reached a power-sharing deal on how to organize the 50-50 Senate.
“I am happy to report … that the leadership of both parties have finalized the organizing resolution for the Senate,” Schumer said from the Senate floor on Wednesday morning, adding that it would let the Senate committees “get to work with Democrats holding the gavels.”
McConnell, in a statement early Wednesday evening, confirmed that they had reached a deal.
“I am pleased to announce we have finalized the formal power-sharing agreement for the 117th Congress. This power-sharing agreement is almost identical to the 2001 agreement and will allow the Senate to be fairly run as an evenly-split body,” he said.
The talks were held up for days after McConnell pushed to include in the resolution a guarantee on the future of the 60-vote legislative filibuster. Progressive activists and a growing number of senators want to nix the filibuster, arguing that it stands in the way of key Democratic priorities such as voting rights, democracy reform and D.C. statehood.
Democrats balked at including a deal on the filibuster as part of the power-sharing agreement. Though Democrats don’t currently have the 50 votes within their caucus to nix the filibuster, they also bristled at being boxed in by McConnell.
McConnell dropped his demand after Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) reiterated that they don’t support nixing the filibuster. He added in his statement on Wednesday that Schumer had also agreed to “protect specific procedural customs.”
The lack of a power-sharing deal kept the Senate suspended in limbo. Though Democrats controlled the Senate floor, Republicans still retained control of the committees because they were operating under the 116th Congress resolution — when Republicans were in the majority.
Some committees technically didn’t have a formal chairman because the GOP senators who oversaw the committees last year have retired.
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) started Tuesday’s hearing for Tom Vilsack, Biden’s pick to be Agriculture secretary, by noting that “the committee has no official chairman at the moment.”
The organizing resolution mirrors a power-sharing agreement from 2001, the last time the Senate was briefly evenly split. Because Vice President Harris is able to break a tie, that formally gives Democrats the majority.
The resolution sets up the committees, including allocating their budgets. And the two Senate leaders agreed to try to increase the number of amendments that get votes on the Senate floor, according to statements they placed in the record about understandings they reached as part of their talks.
“I am a strong supporter of the right of Senators to offer amendments, and commit to increase dramatically the number of member-initiated amendments offered in the 117th Congress,” Schumer said.
He also pledged that he wouldn’t take procedural steps to limit the ability to offer and vote on amendments “unless dilatory measures prevent the Senate from taking action and leave no alternative.”
McConnell, in turn, said that he hoped to cut down on the amount of Senate time that gets taken up by proceeding to a bill. The objection of one senator to taking up a bill can force leadership to eat up days of floor time to jump through procedural hoops.
“I think many times cloture has to be filed on a motion to proceed because members want to ensure they are given the right to offer amendments. Given the assurances regarding the ability of Senators to debate and amend legislation in this Congress, that should help in alleviating that practice,” McConnell said.