Senate Rules Still Pending

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

As expected, a group of Democratic Senators has introduced amendments to the Senate rules that would, if adopted, put an end to the power of a single senator to delay or outright block a vote on a Presidential nomination or proposed legislation. More proposals, and modifications of the proposals set out on Wednesday, are anticipated. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his minority counterpart, Mitch McConnell, are still talking about changes that would satisfy the Republican minority. But Reid himself in his session-opening speech, indicated approval of what was about to be (and now has been) proposed.

In summary, here’s what the newly filed Senate Resolution 10 provides:

Clear Path to Debate: Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed
Makes motions to proceed not subject to a filibuster, but provides for two hours of debate. This proposal has had bipartisan support for decades and is often mentioned as a way to end the abuse of holds.

Eliminates Secret Holds
Prohibits one Senator from objecting on behalf of another, unless he or she discloses the name of the senator with the objection. This is a simple solution to address a longstanding problem.

Right to Amend: Guarantees Consideration of Amendments for both Majority and Minority
Protects the rights of the minority to offer amendments following cloture filing, provided the amendments are germane and have been filed in a timely manner.

This provision addresses comments of Republicans at last year’s Rules Committee hearings. Each time Democrats raised concerns about filibusters on motions to proceed, Republicans responded that it was their only recourse because the Majority Leader fills the amendment tree and prevents them from offering amendments. Our resolution provides a simple solution – it guarantees the minority the right to offer germane

Talking Filibuster: Ensures Real Debate
Following a failed cloture vote, Senators opposed to proceeding to final passage will be required to continue debate as long as the subject of the cloture vote or an amendment, motion, point of order, or other related matter is the pending business.

Expedite Nominations: Reduce Post-Cloture Time
Provides for two hours of post-cloture debate time for nominees.

Post cloture time is meant for debating and voting on amendments — something that is not possible on nominations. Instead, the minority now requires the Senate use this time simply to prevent it from moving on to other business.

Full analysis and comment are at The Daily Kos. For procedure wonks, the Senate provides an official list of its rules.

I think it’s hard to overstate the importance of changing the rules along the lines proposed. Being something of a parliamentary procedure nut, I can see how the minority party (Repubs now, Dems one of these years) could manipulate even these rules to paralyze the Senate as the Republicans did in the 111th. But if the rules are adopted, the lack of anonymity and the requirement that someone who wants to stage a filibuster actually has be in the Senate chamber talking, would go a long way toward restoring a semblance of democracy (small d) in the Senate.

Then again, maybe if the rules didn’t change and the Repugs gave us another two years of sclerosis, voters would catch on and give them the thumping they deserved last November.

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