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Schumer’s Senate Rules Reform “Deal” is Unwritten

By now we have a sense of what Chuck Schumer will present to his caucus on a Senate rules reform deal. There will be three main pieces – banning secret holds, removing a handful of Presidential appointments from advise and consent consideration (the number I’ve seen is about 100 out of roughly 1,400), and ending the privilege for any Senator to force a full reading of a bill or amendment on the floor of the Senate. The former won’t change a thing, the second is a mere 7% reduction in the epic appointment backlog and the third is something I’ve seen tried once (by Tom Coburn on Bernie Sanders’ single-payer amendment) in recent history. So nothing, nothing, and nothing.

But wait! There’s also a crucial voluntary and unwritten portion to the deal! Chuck Schumer, who ground this agreement into nothing negotiated this agreement, explains that the entire thing would not get voted on as a rule change:

The deal would not be codified in the form of a rules change, reform advocates and Hill aides familiar with the talks say. Instead, it would depend on an informal understanding between the two parties to enhance the chamber’s efficiency and comity.

Schumer, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee and has taken the lead on negotiations with Republicans, outlined some tenets of a prospective compromise during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” […]

“But there’s also a way to get to the nub of this and have the leadership on both sides agreeing to pull back,” Schumer added. “[Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell will say, ‘I’m not going to block the motion to proceed and filibuster everything,’ and [Majority Leader Harry] Reid would say, ‘I’m not just going to fill the tree automatically and prevent amendments.’ So I think there’s a possibility we could come to a pretty good agreement.”

A possible deal might seem like welcome news to Democrats frustrated by the lethargic pace of legislating in the Senate, but rules-reform advocates have become likewise exasperated with the state of their leadership’s negotiations.

For starters, an informal deal is, by definition, unofficial. “The whole thing could blow up again in a couple months,” said one operative who has lobbied the Senate on rules reform. “They are getting nothing.”

I was wrong in saying that the deal was nothing, nothing and nothing. It’s worse than that. According to this report, not even the banning of secret holds and the rest will get an actual vote. They hardly deserve a vote, but the point is that Democrats actually think not voting at all will keep the Pandora’s box of rule changes closed. There’s no awareness that the Constitutional option is simply a fact of history, and Republicans will not hesitate to use it if they want.

So instead, they will arrive at this “gentlemen’s agreement” that will change pretty much nothing. I predict that filibusters will go down in this session of Congress, but only because the House is in control of Republicans and there won’t be a whole lot in the way of legislating going on generally. The Senate will remain a broken institution, and the country will continue on its sclerotic pace. Democrats will stupidly point to a reduction in filibusters as “proof” that their gentlemen’s agreement worked. But it will only serve to prove that Democrats have no idea how to operate in an era of party polarization.

Tom Udall has the right, as a Senator, to force the Vice President to rule on changing Senate rules by majority anyway, and force a subsequent vote on rules changes. It looks as if Udall and his colleagues may force that to happen. I hope so.

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David Dayen

David Dayen