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US Senate passes watered-down filibuster reform

US Senate passes watered-down filibuster reform

It is a modest step to be sure, but the US Senate voted to remove some longstanding procedural hurdles that have stalled debate and left Congress mired in gridlock in recent years.

Will the move keep the minority — currently Republicans — from obstructing major bills? Certainly not. But it could reduce the pervasive use of dilatory tactics that have killed off countless pieces of legislation and delayed presidential nominees, sometimes for months.

The changes, which passed 86-9, will help legislation reach the floor of the chamber more quickly by barring a senator from using a blocking tactic, known as the filibuster, at the beginning of debate on a bill.

“It is a step in the right direction,” Democrat Tom Harkin said of the deal which was brokered by four Senate Democrats and four Republicans after weeks of negotiation.

Harkin was among a small group of progressive senators who pushed for more radical alterations to the chamber’s rules, including a requirement that senators talk out their filibusters live on the Senate floor, as in the Hollywood classic “Mr Smith Goes to Washington.”

But those bids were defeated, as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and top Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to a compromise hashed out by the bipartisan group.

Senate rules until now allowed a lawmaker to filibuster a bill at many stages of the process.

But senators including Democrat Carl Levin and Republican Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) argued that members had abused a favored blocking tactic by the minority, essentially killing legislation by filibustering the motion to move toward debating a bill.

That right will now be effectively revoked, but with a price; in a concession to Republicans by Reid, the minority will have a greater role in proposing changes to legislation, by being allowed to introduce two amendments to a bill.

“The outcome of this hard earned compromise will be that there will be a greater degree of comity in the Senate which would allow us to achieve the legislative goals that all of us seek,” McCain said on the Senate floor.

President Barack Obama gave his stamp of approval.

“At a time when we face critical decisions on a whole range of issues — from preventing further gun violence, to reforming our broken immigration system, to getting our fiscal house in order and creating good paying jobs — we cannot afford unnecessary obstruction,” he said.

The deal prevents absolute rule by the majority in the 100-seat Senate, allowing the current Republican minority to preserve its right to force a 60-vote supermajority on legislation votes.

But it averts what critics have called “the nuclear option,” in which Reid had threatened to amend the Senate rules at the beginning of the Congressional session with a simple majority, rather than the traditional two-thirds.

The changes also compress the time it would take a bill to reach a vote and reduce the opportunities to filibuster once legislation passes the Senate and heads toward negotiation with the House of Representatives.

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