Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (left) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed earlier this year to try to smooth Senate operations through expanded amendment opportunities for Republicans and fewer GOP filibusters of Democratic bills, but it hasnt worked out exactly as they hoped.
A "gentlemen's agreement" reached by Senate Democratic and Republican leaders earlier this year to head off a change to filibuster rules was supposed to usher in a new era of open debate and help clear the way for votes on amendments and nominations.
It hasn't turned out that way.
While there might not be a technical violation of that agreement, its spirit, at least, appears to be in tatters, with the Senate as gridlocked as ever and only a trickle of votes each week on bills that have little chance of becoming law.
On the one hand, Republicans have repeatedly used their power to hold nominations hostage for policy reasons and have launched massive barrages of political amendments to garden-variety Senate bills. The tactic has caused some Democrats to accuse Republicans of filibustering by amendment.
"The spirit of the agreement was they'd get amendments and we would get bills done," said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the No. 3 Democrat. "The way it's turned out, they are getting their amendments, but the bills are still getting blocked."
Even when both sides agree on something — like the gentlemen's agreement itself — they still have to jump through hoops to get it done.
"When we have to file cloture on the gentleman's agreement for rules changes, it's an indication that you know we still haven't reached that level of nirvana that we're all praying for," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said. A cloture motion is a motion to limit debate, or beat back an attempted filibuster.
The Illinois Democrat stopped short of saying his party should have taken a harder line in their negotiations on the rules.
"I'm not going to second-guess what we did. I am disappointed that so many nominations and so much legislative activity has been bottled up on the floor," Durbin said. "It clearly is an effort on the other side to stop us from legislating and filling spots in this administration."
Republicans have their complaints, too. They note that while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has largely lived up to his promise to rarely "fill the tree" to cut off amendments, he has repeatedly maneuvered to prevent votes on difficult amendments, frustrating Republicans. Senate Democrats have also avoided taking up even basic measures, such as passing a budget resolution, in part because it would expose their many vulnerable incumbents to unlimited, politically charged amendments.
Republicans defended their decisions to block various nominations, including the Commerce secretary position in a dispute over trade, and their pre-emptive hold on any future nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.