McConnell, left, and Reid have agreed to modestly modify Senate filibuster rules and appear to have a gentlemen’s agreement to avoid the constant quorum calls that have plagued the chamber in recent years.
Separate from the formal changes, Reid and McConnell appear to have another gentlemen’s agreement, similar to the one they entered into during the 2011 rules debate. This time, the leaders will say they agree to press senators to actually use post-cloture debate time and raise objections on the floor. That’s designed to end the constant quorum calls that have plagued the Senate in recent years.
Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico explained that if a senator asks for a quorum call after a bill has cleared a filibuster hurdle and a quorum is produced, further quorum calls would be construed as dilatory motions. Such motions are not in order after the 60-vote threshold has already been achieved and the move would allow the majority to call a vote. Udall had been among the senators championing more robust changes.
“There is a limitation on the use of the time after a cloture vote. Currently, you have 30 hours, and it’s 30 hours usually of quorum calls. This incessant roll-calling which leads people to go to their cable provider and complain that something’s wrong with my channel, the Senate’s not doing anything,” said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.
“If senators seeking to slow down business simply put in quorum calls to delay action, the Senate will go live, force votes to produce a quorum and otherwise work to make sure Senators actually show up and debate,” a senior Democratic aide explained. The practice of holding live quorums has been rare in recent history.
That sort of handshake agreement caused qualms among more liberal senators and outsiders pushing for a “talking filibuster” that would require objecting senators to hold the floor. That was a central part of a rules overhaul (S Res 4) introduced by Harkin, Udall and fellow Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Among the outside groups opposed is Common Cause, which actually had filed a lawsuit to try to get the filibuster declared unconstitutional.
“My friend Harry Reid, the senator from Searchlight, Nev., has gone missing in the fight for filibuster reform,” Common Cause President Bob Edgar said. “The deal he and Sen. McConnell have struck allows individual senators to continue blocking debate and action by the entire body and to do so without explaining themselves to their colleagues or the American people.”
Udall, however, said that he would support the proposals.
“I’m going to vote for the proposals. This is progress. It’s moving us in the right direction,” Udall said. “This is not every thing I wanted, obviously.”
Merkley expressed a similar sentiment in a statement, saying he would stay vigilant about the issues.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t take a bolder step to fix the Senate, but what is most important today is the deep determination of Senators to return the Senate to a more functional institution,” he said. “If the modest steps taken today do not end the paralysis the Senate currently suffers, many Senators are determined to revisit this debate and explore stronger remedies.” On the issue of nominations, the Reid-McConnell agreement sets, as a standing order for the 113th Congress, much shorter limits on post-cloture debate on routine nominations. On district judicial nominations, which often get up-or-down votes anyway, the debate would be limited to two hours after breaking a filibuster, while there would be no more than eight hours on a host of other nominations, not including senior officials such as Cabinet nominees or other senior judgeships.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.