WASHINGTON – The filibuster lives on. The Senate voted overwhelmingly late Thursday to reject efforts to change its rules to restrict the blockades that have sown gridlock and discord in recent years on Capitol Hill.
Instead, senators settled on a more modest measure to prevent single lawmakers from anonymously holding up legislation and nominations, and the parties’ Senate leaders announced a handshake deal to conduct business in a more efficient and civilized way.
The two leaders, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also endorsed legislation, to be drawn up later, to break the logjam of confirmations of presidential appointments by reducing by as much as a third the number of appointees subject to Senate approval.
Senators were emphatic in their votes against limiting the filibuster, a treasured right of minorities trying to prevent majorities from running roughshod over them. Many Democrats, while now in the majority, envisioned a day, perhaps as early as after the 2012 elections, when they would return to the minority.
None of Thursday’s series of votes would have eliminated all filibusters, which are used to stall action on bills or nominations and require 60 votes to override in the 100-member body. Instead, Democrats pushing for change sought to get rid of filibusters that specifically stop bills from being brought to the Senate floor, and to require senators imposing a filibuster to stay on the floor debating the issue. One proposal would have gradually reduced the 60-vote threshold to a simple majority of 51 as debate proceeded.
The votes were 84-12 against the proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to gradually reduce the threshold and 51-44 to reject a proposal by Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Harkin to end filibusters on motions to advance a bill to the floor, require those initiating filibusters to stay on the floor and to shorten debate time on nominations. A third resolution by Merkley that focused on requiring those filibustering to keep talking on the floor went down, 49-46. All the proposals to change Senate rules would have required two-thirds majorities for approval.
But recognizing the frustration of many senators over the delaying tactics and partisan battles that have paralyzed the Senate in recent years, Majority Leader Reid and Republican leader McConnell said they had agreed on nonbinding steps to restore comity and cooperation in the Senate. Under the agreement, McConnell said, minority Republicans would block fewer bills and nominations in exchange for a guarantee of more chances to amend legislation.