The 100 year old cloture rule that required 60 votes to pass bills and confirm judges and many of the president’s appointments may be in its final death throws. It came into formal existence just before World War I when several senators objected to a bill that would have armed American merchant marine vessels. Senator …
It sounded like Senate Majority Leader did just that last week in getting a vote that overrule the Senate parliamentarian’s decision. And while it didn’t end filibuster, it did leave the door open for its eventual demise. This is what took place this evening as initially reported by The Hill:
Reid and 50 members of his caucus voted to change Senate rules unilaterally to prevent Republicans from forcing votes on uncomfortable amendments after the chamber has voted to move to final passage of a bill.
Reid’s coup passed by a vote of 51-48, leaving Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fuming.
The surprise move stunned Republicans, who did not expect Reid to bring heavy artillery to what had been a humdrum knife fight over amendments to China currency legislation.
As Ryan Grim and Michael McAuliff at Huffington Post point out, Harry Reid Busts Up Senate Precedent
McConnell moved to suspend the rules and shift debate over to the American Jobs Act. Reid argued that doing so amounted to another filibuster, because it required 60 votes to move back to the original bill, and so therefore was out of order. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who happened to be the presiding officer at the time, asked the Senate parliamentarian what he thought. The parliamentarian advised Begich that McConnell’s motion was in order.
Reid then appealed the ruling, following a script that advocates of ending the filibuster wrote long ago. What some senators call the “constitutional option,” and what others call the “nuclear option,” involves as a first step appealing a ruling that a filibuster is in order. The second step is to defeat a motion to table that appeal, which is exactly what happened next, with all but one Democrat sticking with Reid.
With the chair overruled, McConnell’s motion was declared out of order, setting a narrow precedent that motions to suspend the rules are out of order during a post-cloture period.
But it also set a more important precedent. The advice of the parliamentarian is considered sacrosanct in the Senate. Reid’s decision to overrule him opens a gate to similar efforts that could also be done by majority vote.
Reid’s move Thursday, in that context, is less abusive of Senate precedent than it first appears. The current rules create a situation in which two 60-vote thresholds must be met before a bill can pass, the first to end debate and the second to move to final passage. McConnell’s move to suspend the rules could have created additional 60-vote hurdles, clearly in violation of the spirit of the post-cloture period, which is intended to be a short stretch until moving to final passage.
David Waldman st Daily Kos came to this conclusion:
(T)he discussion on the floor has in fact wandered into rules reform territory, which is not altogether unfitting. If this really were the nuclear option, that would of course mean that the infamous “Gentleman’s agreement” was now inoperative, since part of that deal was that neither party would use the “constitutional option” (which would under most definitions encompass the slightly different “nuclear option” as well) in this Congress or the next. Do Republicans really want that door open? We can do that, I guess. But we might as well go all the way, then.
We’ll just have to see how much more frustrated Reid gets with the Republicans blocking everything. This may have some two years too late.
Up Date: The jobs bill failed to get enough votes to pass cloture. Looks like Harry still hasn’t found his last nerve with Republican obstruction.
“It is my understanding Jim DeMint has had a standing hold on everything throughout this two year process,” Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. “When I have had amendments on a couple of occasions, I have been told: ‘Absolutely, we in the Republican leadership are fine but you are going to have to clear it with Jim DeMint because he has a standing hold on everything.’
DeMint Has Had ‘A Standing Hold’ On All Legislation For Past Two Years
Sam Stein, HuffingtonPost — 09-28-10
“… but you are going to have to clear it with Jim …”
This is Democracy?
Sounds instead like the GOP’s own version of American Idol — where Gopher DeMint is the lone ‘Simon Cowell’ on the Jury.