UPDATE: Senate Leaders’ Agreement Called ‘Significant Step’ Toward Filibuster Reform

The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate late Thursday announced a new agreement to reduce obstruction in the chamber, after a more-forceful effort toward filibuster reform was killed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the floor to outline the shape of their deal, in lieu of a rules reform package which had been advanced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

The push for reform is aimed at the intense use of the filibuster by Republicans in recent years so as to try to derail priorities of the Democratic majority.

“We are making these changes in the name of compromise, and this agreement itself was constructed with the same respect for mutual concession,” Sen. Reid said. “Senator McConnell and I both believe that our reverence for this institution must always be more important than party. And as part of this compromise, we have 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. The five reforms we are making, however, are significant. They will move us five steps closer to a healthier Senate.”

Under the agreement, which came during a colloquy between Reid and McConnell, McConnell agreed to reduce GOP use of the filibuster on motions to proceed and Reid agreed to reduce the use of a parliamentary procedure known as “filling the tree” which blocks all Republican amendments to a bill.

Under the terms of the agreement the Senate will hold votes on:

· Eliminating secret holds, including the right of senators to pass their secret holds to another anonymous senator to keep a rolling secret hold;
· Eliminating the delaying tactic of forcing the reading of an amendment that has already been submitted for 72 hours and is publicly available;
· Legislation to exempt about one third of all nominations from the Senate confirmation process, reducing the number of executive nominations subject to Senate delays, which will be scheduled at a future date under the terms of an agreement reached by McConnell and Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), along with Reid and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“While we didn’t get everything we wanted to, the Senate will be a significantly better place with these changes,” Schumer says. “As a result of this agreement, there should be more debate, more votes and fewer items blocked by a single senator or a small minority of senators. Make no mistake about it: this agreement is not a panacea, but it is a very significant step on the road to making the Senate function in a better, fairer way. This would not have been possible without the continued insistence on change by Senators Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley and Tom Harkin. Their push to establish the Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster, which would require senators to actually hold the floor if they want to block a bill, is one I hope will be accepted by the other party in the future.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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