Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have reached an agreement to change Senate rules to reduce the use of filibusters without (a) requiring a "speaking filibuster" as urged by senators Merkley, Tom Udall and others, or (b) effectuating the rules change by a simple majority vote on the (real or factitious) first day of the new Congress. They explain the terms and intent of their agreement in a "colloquy" (a scripted dialogue conducted on the Senate floor), released by the Democrats' press office today:
For Immediate Release
Date: Thursday, January 27, 2011
REID, MCCONNELL COLLOQUY ON RULES PACKAGE
McConnell Agrees Not to Pursue Constitutional Option “In This or the Next Congress”
Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today entered into the following colloquy. Below is the text of the colloquy as prepared for delivery:
Senator Reid: Over the past few months, Democrats and Republicans have had many positive discussions about the direction of the 112th Congress. There are many important issues facing our country and solutions will require bipartisan cooperation. In particular, there has been a lot of discussion lately about the Senate rules. Many of my colleagues have spoken to me about the way the Senate operated during the last Congress. I think my friend from Kentucky would agree with me that there was great frustration on both sides of the aisle.
The Senate was always intended to be, has always been, and should always remain, the saucer that allows the boiling tea to cool to ensure rash actions do not get enacted into law; to ensure that laws reflect the cold rationality of reason and not the heat of perhaps misplaced passion. But, there has been concern in recent years that the Senate rules have been abused – that a very few have turned rules designed to ensure careful examination into a simple bottleneck for parochial purposes. Some have even expressed concerned that the Senate is broken.
Now, I wouldn’t say the Senate is broken, as I am proud to say that the last Congress was historic in its achievements. But, the Senate Republican Leader, my friend from Kentucky, and I have heard concerns from many different Senators about Senate rules and processes, and we have discussed the issue with each other at length. Senators Schumer and Alexander have been an important part of this discussion. Together, we’ve made important progress on a number of important areas.
Senator McConnell: Thank you, Senator Reid. Senators in both of our parties agree that there has been a significant breakdown in the Senate, though I am sure there are different perspectives on the causes of the breakdown. We both recall that in the not too distant past, when the Minority and Majority were reversed, we both had somewhat different perspectives on these issues. But, I know that the Majority Leader and I both care about this institution and the vital role it plays in our democracy.
I am happy about the reforms that we will be adopting today. The rules create many rights – for individual Senators, for the Minority, and for the Majority Leader. But, with rights come responsibilities and Senator Reid and I have discussed how to ensure that we return to a better balance between those two this Congress, and that the twin hallmarks of the Senate—the right to debate and amend legislation—are restored.
Senator Reid: Yes, we both would like to see a different Senate this year – with fewer filibusters and procedural delays and more opportunities for debate and amendments. In many cases, the problem is not necessarily in the Senate rules, it is in the lack of restraint in the exercise of prerogatives under the rules. Toward that end, we will now enter into a colloquy to discuss some of these issues. Senator McConnell, I have discussed with you that many Senators in the Majority have been very unhappy at the excessive use of the filibuster the last two Congresses, particularly on motions to proceed but also at other times when a matter that has bipartisan support is filibustered purely for delay.
Senator McConnell: And, in my Caucus, I have many Senators who have complained that the Majority Leader has abused his ability to “fill the amendment” tree, preventing Senators from offering and debating amendments that they believe are important, especially when a matter has not gone through committee or cloture is filed too quickly .
Senator Reid: As we have discussed, in the interests of comity and more open process in the Senate, we have agreed that we should use these procedural options of filling the amendment tree and filibustering the motion to proceed infrequently. And, we’ll do our best to ensure that other Members of our caucuses respect this colloquy, as well.
Senator McConnell: I agree that both sides should do their best to reinstitute regular order, where bills come to the floor and Senators get amendments. Of course, there will be times when there is no consensus and when either side may want to use all its rights to defeat a bill. But we should endeavor to work together to follow the regular order where practicable and use our procedural options with discretion. And, I will do my best to ensure that other Members of my caucus respect this.
I want to close by clearly reaffirming my view that if we are going to change Senate rules, we must do so within those rules. As Rule 5 states, the Senate is a continuing body, and the rules continue unless changed within the parameters of the Rules.
I strongly reject this notion that a simple majority can muscle their way to new rules at the beginning of a new Congress. I believe this is a flawed approach. Majorities come and go. My Democratic colleagues should be wary of attempting this maneuver because they will not always be in the Majority. The Senate is not the House of Representatives, and our Founding Fathers never intended it to be. What some of my colleague in the Majority propose would damage the institution and turn the Senate into a legislative body like the House where a simple Majority can run roughshod over the Minority. I would oppose such an effort to change the rules with a simple majority in this Congress or the next Congress, regardless of which political party is in the majority. I ask the Majority Leader to join me in rejecting this effort.
Senator Reid: The Minority Leader and I have discussed this issue on numerous occasions. I know that there is a strong interest in rules changes among many in my Caucus. In fact, I would support many of these changes through regular order. But, I agree that the proper way to change Senate rules is through the procedures established in those rules, and I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate’s Rules other than through the regular order.
And, I hope and expect that we will have a more deliberative and efficient Senate this Congress. In particular, I hope we can reach an agreement to move nominees in regular order. One important reform to the nominations process is reducing the number of Senate confirmed positions. Our offices are working with Senators Schumer, Alexander, Lieberman, and Collins to draft a bill to accomplish this goal. This bill will be introduced in short order and we will work to get it enacted as quickly as possible.
Many of these positions are part-time boards and commissions or various agency positions that are unrelated to the management of that agency. They could be Presidentially-appointed rather than going through the Senate. Although similar efforts have been proposed in the past, I think all of my colleagues realize the need to address this situation as soon as all the details are finalized.
Senator McConnell: I agree that the Senate spends too much time dealing with a growing number of nominees. It makes sense to reduce the number of positions confirmed and free up Committee staff to focus on other nominees or legislation. I appreciate the work of these Senators and look forward to passing this legislation as soon as it is complete.
Senator Reid: I look forward to putting into practice the sentiments in this colloquy. Finally, I hope Senators of good will in both parties will continue discussions as to how we can make the Senate a better institution.
Our discussion today is in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to express hope and anticipation that the 112th Congress will be different in many ways than the 111th. We look forward to greater comity on both sides of the aisle so that we can move legislation and nominees that have bipartisan support from the majority of Senators in this body. There are areas that we can and should work together to achieve progress for the American people.
Senator McConnell: I agree with the Majority Leader that this Congress should be more bipartisan than the last Congress. I do support the idea that the Senate should be able to move forward and complete action on matters with broad bipartisan support. Neither party has all of the solutions to the problems our nation faces. Many of the successes of past Congresses have been the result of bipartisan cooperation and input. I look forward to such cooperation and input in this Congress.