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Gentlemen’s Agreement Showing Signs of Wear

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
A gentlemen’s agreement between Senate leaders is on shaky ground after Majority Leader Harry Reid changed a Senate rule last week.

A Senate GOP aide said the term obstructionist doesn’t apply to the Republicans because “just since returning from August recess, the Senate passed, in a bipartisan way, the patent reform bill, Trade Adjustment Assistance, a highway bill extension and the [Federal Aviation Administration] extension — all have been signed into law by the president; all have been called job-creators by Sen. Reid. And on Wednesday, we’ll pass three free-trade agreements, which Republicans and the president, in a bipartisan way, agree are significant job creators.”

The GOP aide also said that the motions to suspend the rules have not been abused and none have been brought up this year.

At issue for the Republicans is that they lost one way to affect legislation in the minority.

“Not only does [Reid] have the ability to fill the tree, but he now has the ability to prevent motions to suspend the rules after cloture,” the Republican aide said.

Democrats contend their action had nothing to do with any particular amendment but with the ability to move legislation through the Senate.

“This [motion to suspend the rules] is a new stalling tactic,” the Democratic aide said, arguing that the threat for filibuster by amendment was afoot and that the move had been used about 18 times last year.

“Our problem was with running through a gauntlet of potentially unlimited amendments on a bill that had broad bipartisan support, not about any amendment,” the aide continued.

Binder said she doesn’t think the Democrats’ move is a momentous precedent. She said she believes the move is an effort to make sure that invoking cloture puts the Senate on a path to a final vote.

“From my perspective, ever since they lowered the threshold for cloture in 1975, there have been efforts to make sure that cloture actually does bring the Senate to a final vote,” Binder said. “This really is another move in that direction.”

But from the minority’s point of view, Binder said, “it’s clamping down on an avenue” to affect legislation.

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