Top senators reach deal to curb filibusters

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate’s senior Democrat and Republican reached agreement Thursday to impose modest limits on the filibuster, the delaying tactic that minority parties have long used to kill legislation.

The deal would reduce — but not eliminate — the number of times opponents can use filibusters on legislation and limit the time spent debating some bills and nominations. Leaders described the pact to rank-and-file lawmakers Thursday, and the Senate seemed likely to approve the restrictions later in the day.

The pact does not represent a dramatic reworking of Senate rules and leaves the minority party with far more power than it has in the House, where procedures allow a united majority party to muscle through its priorities.

But it would streamline some of the Senate’s work and avoid what could have been prolonged, nasty battling between the two parties if Democrats — frustrated by the GOP’s growing reliance on the delays — tried ramming through more decisive changes.

In an irony that underscores the Senate’s complex rules, it was expected to take the chamber three votes to approve the changes.

The curbs on filibusters fall short of what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., initially said he favored months ago. He wanted to completely ban the tactic’s use when the Senate tries to begin debating a measure, and he threatened to use Democrats’ strength in the Senate to enact the rules by a simple majority vote.

That tactic is called the “nuclear option” because of the bitter partisan warfare it would likely trigger in the chamber, potentially halting almost any business the Senate tried to conduct.

Typically, rules changes take a two-thirds majority.

The restrictions also fall far short of what some of the Senate’s newer Democrats were demanding.

Their proposals included requiring filibustering senators to actually debate on the chamber’s floor, a practice immortalized in the film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” but seldom used in recent years. Instead, most filibusters in recent decades occur when a senator simply informs majority Democrats that they will need the votes of 60 of the 100 senators to end delaying tactics.

Democrats say Republican use of the tactic has become almost routine and far too frequent. Republicans say they use it because Reid often blocks them from offering amendments.

As part of the agreement, filibusters could be avoided when the Senate tries beginning debate on a bill or nomination. In return, the majority leader would have to allow each party to offer at least two amendments — addressing a major complaint of Republicans that their amendments are often shut out.

In addition, once the Senate votes to limit debate on certain nominations — district court judges and administration posts below Cabinet level — the debate would be limited to two hours, far below the 30 hours now allowed. The proposal was aimed at speeding the time spent on such nominations.

In addition, instead of three separate opportunities for opponents of a bill to wage filibusters to block a Senate vote allowing the chamber to try writing compromise legislation with the House, there would only be one such filibuster allowed.

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