In theory, the Nevada Democrat could use the new rules to bring up almost any piece of legislation, as long as he allowed Republicans to offer at least two amendments of their choosing. But in practice, political pressures may make him think twice before employing that tactic.
One senior GOP aide expressed doubt that Reid would regularly use the new power to sidestep filibusters on motions to proceed. After all, he would be giving the GOP the power to have a roll call vote on any topic, and Republicans have not been shy about pushing amendments they know put vulnerable Democratic incumbents in a difficult spot.
Of course, the new maneuver could also set up a quandary for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He would control the right to offer the Republican amendments, and the 45 members of his conference would undoubtedly be interested in getting their chance to address their issues.
For instance, McConnell’s colleague from Kentucky, fellow Republican Rand Paul, frequently seeks to offer floor amendments that face overwhelming defeat and are not popular even among the majority of Senate Republicans. If McConnell, rather than Reid, is perceived as blocking Paul’s amendments, it could cause trouble for him back home as he seeks a sixth term in 2014.
Steven S. Smith, a Senate procedural scholar at Washington University in St. Louis, called the overall package “a very modest change.” He noted that the agreement eliminated a draft provision from Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have given committee chairmen and ranking members more power to pick floor amendments under the process.
“This may be a bow to unhappy Steering Committee types who may not have liked the previous draft that gave formal leadership control of the amendments,” Smith said. “There will be some confusion about how those amendment opportunities will be allocated within each party.”
Of course, the change is only temporary, expiring at the end of the 113th Congress. The permanent rules change Reid and McConnell agreed to may be even less likely to work. The two agreed to create a “bipartisan” motion to bring bills to the floor more quickly. But that would require the leaders to be in agreement on what should be debated on the floor, and it could prove politically difficult for both.
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