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Filibuster Changes On the Way, but Move Could Be Weakened by Senate Leaders

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Reid is expected to use a procedural trick to ensure that his opportunity for filibuster reform does not slip away after the first day of the 113th Congress.

Udall and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon plan to continue their push for a filibuster reform that focuses on the “talking filibuster,” which would require members to stand up and defend their efforts to obstruct legislation or allow for a majority vote to move forward. At some point, that would likely allow a simple majority vote on closing debate on legislation and other business, rather than the 60 votes required under the current filibuster process.

Merkley and Udall may lose that fight if McConnell and Reid come to a deal, but the two senators’ efforts will likely force some incremental changes, akin to the filibuster overhaul package being pushed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; John McCain, R-Ariz., and six other senators.

Merkley and Udall have been critical of the Levin-McCain proposal because they believe it would not require members to take a public stance in opposition to legislation or nominations.

Some critics of the Levin-McCain package, including Merkley and Udall, argue it doesn’t make it any harder for the minority to delay legislation, but it does allow it to attach poison pill amendments to any bill by a simple majority vote.

Indeed, the proposal could allow non-germane amendments at any point in the process — even after the Senate has voted for cloture, or to close debate — a situation that opens the door to highly political votes that could make the procedure difficult to deploy.

Sessions blasted the idea of allowing a limited universe of amendments, saying that it could give too much power to committee chairmen and leadership in deciding which senators get to offer amendments.

“I’m not sure we ought to further embed in our rules superpowers to one senator or another group of senators,” Sessions said, noting that the function of the majority leader is more of an entrenched custom than a result of any existing rule.

Other changes could find more broad support, such as eliminating the ability to force three cloture votes on getting a Senate-passed bill into a conference committee with the House, which can stall all Senate business for more than a week. That possibility has contributed to the breakdown of the conference committee process for getting agreements between the chambers in favor of legislative “ping-pong.”

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