Letting Another Crisis Go to Waste: Weak Agreement on Senate Rules Finalized
Harry Reid just spoke on the Senate floor with the final deal on rules changes in the 112th Congress. David Waldman gave an outline of this earlier this morning, but now we know precisely what will get a vote, and what will pass, under the agreement.
• Eliminating secret holds: This includes allowing Senators to “roll” their secret hold onto other colleagues. Once again, the problem isn’t the secrecy but the hold. Holds aren’t going anywhere, and they can only be surmounted with a cloture vote, and all the rules around cloture votes remain, so secret or not, there’s plenty of incentive for the minority party to use holds and trigger a process that forces weeks of floor time to dispense with the objection of sometimes just one Senator.
• Eliminating reading of amendments: Anything that has been submitted for 72 hours and is publicly available doesn’t have to be read on the floor. As I’ve said, this has been used precisely once in my recent memory – by Tom Coburn, on Bernie Sanders’ single-payer amendment in the health care bill. It’s been threatened a couple times, but even this has been a bridge too far for the obstructionists, for the most part. It’s I guess good to see it go away, but it really does almost nothing in terms of the workings of the Senate.
• Exempting nominations: According to a Senate leadership aide, this would exempt 1/3 of all nominations from the Senate confirmation process, which is more than what’s been discussed previously. However, we won’t know which nominations will be exempted now. This will come at a future date based on an agreement from leaders in both parties.
In addition, there was a colloquy entered into the record, a “gentleman’s agreement” where Mitch McConnell agreed to “reduce” the filibuster on the motion to proceed, and Reid agreed to “reduce” filling the amendment tree to block amendments from the minority party. This preserves the 60-vote Senate, as it still allows for the filibuster to end debate on legislation. It’s also pretty meaningless, as it’s a handshake agreement with no binding force. And “reduce” is a weasel word that either side can break at their leisure. [cont’d.]
Sen. Reid thanked his colleagues in the GOP for coming to this agreement. He also said the Senate “runs on a fuel made of comity and trust” in his speech on the floor, and that the chamber has “the ability to debate and to deliberate without the restraints of time limits.” He said that’s encoded into the Senate DNA. I watch far too much C-SPAN, and I can tell you pretty clearly that I’ve seen almost no debate or deliberation in the United States Senate. The “encoding” in the DNA is a nonsensical statement of exceptionalism that merely invites obstruction. Make no mistake – the Senate, and all its members, are getting precisely what they deserve. Any future whining about how difficult it is to break a filibuster will go in one ear and out the other. They had their chance to fix this, and they punted. I don’t believe Republicans will be as generous.
Reid closed with this:
Senator McConnell and I both believe our reverance for this institution must always be more important than our respective political parties. As part of this compromise, we’ve 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.
Good luck with that one.