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Democrats Hopeful About Changing Filibuster Rules

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Udall said he was not sure what form a limit on debating motions to proceed might take, but he seemed open to the idea of allowing a fixed number of hours to talk about the motion before the chamber moves to a simple-majority vote on taking up the measure.

Under current rules, a senator opposing a move to go to conference can force a series of cloture votes. Because it would take more than a week to jump over all of them, leaders often opt for an informal method of volleying bills between the House and Senate, sometimes known as “ping pong,” to avoid the Senate floor bottleneck.

Republicans are concerned that Reid will use a procedural maneuver at the start of the new Congress to change the rules with a simple-majority vote, citing the constitutional authority that the body has to determine its own rules, rather than following the rules of prior sessions of the Senate. Generally, a two-thirds majority is required to limit debate on rules changes.

Reid pledged to oppose the procedural maneuver — a nuclear option — for the current Congress and the one that begins in January as part of the “gentlemen’s agreement” from January 2011.

But one senior Democratic aide said Reid considers that agreement essentially null and void. Part of that agreement called for Republicans to generally avoid blocking motions to proceed to legislation, but that has happened many times this Congress.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., criticized the possible changes in a Heritage Foundation blog post last week.

“Leader Reid is creating the illusion of a problem to justify drastic, unprecedented action to deprive Republicans of the ability to debate and amend legislation,” DeMint wrote.

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