Senate

Senators in both parties discuss small rules changes for future

A small group of senators is discussing changing the Senate’s rules to make it easier for bipartisan bills to get votes, though any change agreed upon would not take effect until the next Congress in 2023.

The talks are occurring between Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who have been involved with previous rules change discussions with their own caucuses. The discussion is still in an early phase, with each of the three senators saying that they are just talking and not close to putting forward a proposal.

“I’ve shared with them what I proposed in the past. So, we’re talking,” Blunt told The Hill.

Cardin separately told The Hill that they were having discussions and “looking at what is the most constructive process to advance the issue.”

The general idea under discussion would be to make it easier for bills that get significant bipartisan support in committee to get votes on the floor, including bypassing a current 60-vote threshold for starting debate combined with an agreement on amendment votes.

Unlike Democratic efforts to reform the filibuster, the discussion between Manchin, Blunt and Cardin wouldn’t touch the 60-vote hurdle on ending debate, meaning opponents could still block a bill from ultimately passing the Senate.

“It should go to the floor within a certain amount of time. Once it goes to the floor, we believe the privilege would be then that you don’t have to have a cloture vote to get on the bill. But once you get on the bill you have to guarantee amendments,” Manchin told reporters recently,  when he first indicated that he was going to sit down with Cardin.

And part of the discussion is delaying a rules change until the next Congress, which the senators hope could help it pick up more bipartisan support because which party will control the majority starting 2023 is currently up for grabs and it would de-link talk of rules reforms from a specific piece of legislation. 

The Democrats’ previous rules change proposal — which was blocked earlier this year when Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) joined Republicans to vote against it — would have enacted an immediate, one-time rules change to exempt a sweeping election bill from the 60-vote legislative filibuster and instead subjected it to a talking filibuster.

“We don’t want it wrapped up in an individual bill,” Cardin said about delaying a rules change even if an agreement passed this year.

Democrats tried, without success, for months to get Manchin and Sinema to back changes to the 60-vote legislative filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.

Changing the rules without using the “nuclear option,” where the rules are changed by a simple majority, requires 67 votes, which means any proposal would need significant bipartisan support.

The talks are hardly the first time that senators have tried to figure out smaller changes that could be made to break the Senate’s request gridlock.

Manchin had discussions late last year with Republicans about smaller rules changes — talks that were first reported by The Hill. He also convened a bipartisan group late last year to discuss potential changes on how to “restore the Senate.” Ideas discussed during the December meeting included getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle to start debate on a bill. 

Blunt previously brought up changes to the rules in 2015 and 2016, when he chaired the Rules Committee, with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was at the time the top Democrat on the Rules Committee. And a bipartisan group was covering largely the same ground in talks earlier this year but those talks petered out without getting an agreement. 

Cardin, who has been involved in the previous discussions, argued that there was a growing recognition from senators about the need to reform the Senate’s rules.

“I think there’s a greater desire now. You reach a point where I think members recognize that we need to reform Senate rules on both sides,” he said. “They just don’t want to take sides for a particular issue.”

Tags Ben Cardin Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Filibuster Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Roy Blunt

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