Perhaps wary that they might soon find themselves back in the minority, most Democratic senators opted against major reforms in the filibuster rules, settling instead for modest changes in the way the chamber conducts its business. Senate leaders also fashioned a “gentlemen’s agreement” designed to avoid some of the procedural battles that have caused legislative gridlock in recent years.
No More “Secret Holds”
Previously, any senator could place a “hold” on consideration of a measure, anonymously and behind the scenes, and not have to come forward for six days, preventing floor action on the bill during that time period. Under the new rule, passed by a vote of 92 to 4, the objecting senator will have to come forward publicly after two days, or the hold will simply to be attributed to his or her party.
No More Forced Reading of Legislation
Under the old rules, disgruntled senators could force the clerk to read the text of legislation or amendments aloud in their entirety, a delaying tactic that could take hours. A rules change that passed 81 to 15 would do away with this practice as long as senators have advance access to the measure on the floor.
Fewer Confirmation Delays
As part of their compromise, Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV-D) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY-R) agreed on a way to break the logjam in the Senate confirmation process for Executive Branch nominees. Both endorsed legislation, to be drawn up later, to reduce the number of appointments subject to Senate confirmation, now about 1,400, by about one-third. In some cases, the confirmation process has taken months, using up Senate time and leaving high-level Federal positions unfilled.
Fewer Filibusters / More Minority Amendments
Also as part of their agreement, Senator McConnell pledged that his party would block fewer bills (through filibusters on motions to proceed to debate) in exchange for a guarantee from Senator Reid that Republicans would be able to offer more amendments.
No “Constitutional” or “Nuclear” Option
Finally, the two leaders agreed that during this Congress and the next, neither party will try to change the Senate rules through a simple majority vote – a parliamentary maneuver known as either the “constitutional option” or the “nuclear option.”
Compliance with these mostly nonbinding changes is sure to be tested as divisive issues come up and the 2012 elections approach.