WASHINGTON — Senate leaders have reached a compromise agreement to change the chamber’s rules to make it harder for a single member to slow down action on legislation, according to several senators.
Senate action on the measure may come this week after Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada presents the proposal to fellow Democrats, according to a Senate aide. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, hadn’t publicly announced the plan.
“It’s a baby, baby step,” Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who had urged broader rule changes, told reporters. The agreement “does nothing to alter the fact we have now become a de facto, 60-vote Senate” in which support from 60 of the chamber’s 100 members are needed to advance major legislation, he said.
Harkin said he expects his Democratic colleagues will accept the leaders’ agreement.
Reid has complained repeatedly that Republicans abuse rules allowing use of the filibuster procedure to block legislation and confirmation of presidential nominees. Today’s agreement wouldn’t change the minority’s ability to demand a 60-vote threshold to advance legislation once it has reached the Senate floor. Democrats control 55 votes to 45 for the Republicans.
Harkin said President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda “will not get very far” as long as Republicans can block legislation with 41 votes.
“We still have a system here where the minority will decide what happens,” Harkin said.
While the compromise is less far-reaching than an overhaul that Reid and other Democrats were seeking, the proposal would pare back the ability of an individual or small group of senators to stall legislation backed by both party leaders.
Reid and McConnell agreed to speed the process for bringing bills to the floor in cases where each side has a chance to offer two amendments to the legislation, according to a summary of the proposal.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said he didn’t know how much difference the changes would make.
“It remains to be seen,” Durbin said. “If there’s a constructive attitude” because leaders reached a bipartisan agreement, “it may help things.”
The proposed rules “look acceptable,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. “I think it’s an attempt to accommodate concerns on both sides.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, said the plan “doesn’t go anywhere near far enough in my view.”
“What we have to ask ourselves is: Should we need 60 votes to pass major pieces of legislation? I don’t think we should,” Sanders said.
The plan reduces the maximum debate time, to eight hours from 30 hours, on nominations by the president after they clear the 60-vote threshold for ending a filibuster. That provision wouldn’t apply to federal appellate or Supreme Court nominees or to candidates for Cabinet posts.
The plan excludes a proposal by some Democratic senators, including Harkin, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico, to require senators who want to filibuster a bill to hold the floor and speak until one side gives in.
The “talking filibuster” was made famous in the 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” where the title character, played by James Stewart, collapses from exhaustion after speaking on the Senate floor for 24 hours nonstop to delay a vote on a bill he opposes.
Reid and McConnell did reach an informal agreement to insist that senators who want to continue debating, after 60 or more senators agree to limit it, must take the floor and stay there during the allotted remaining time. Currently, there is no such requirement.
With assistance from James Rowley and Chris Strohm in Washington.