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Denver Post - Senate Forges Gentlemen's Agreement on Filibusters

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Location: Washington, DC

Senate leaders said Thursday that they have agreed that minority Republicans will filibuster fewer bills and nominations in exchange for a promise by the Democratic majority to give them more chances to offer amendments.

The gentlemen's agreement announced by Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell was part of a package of measures to make the Senate a more workable and less contentious place.

Included in those rules were proposals from Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both of whom pitched their own reform ideas, and both got those passed.

Udall's plan eliminates a rule that allows senators to read amendments as a "delay tactic." Bennet's plan, which Udall also supported, gets rid of secret holds that senators can place on executive-branch nominations.

The deal focuses only on filibusters pertaining to "motions to proceed," or attempts to bring a bill or a nomination to the Senate floor -- something both Udall and Bennet supported.

"I've witnessed the rules being abused for needless delays that prevent us from doing the work the American people expect us to do. When this rule has been invoked, it's caused us to bring the Senate to a halt," Udall said Thursday. "The effect has been to tie the Senate in knots, requiring the Senate clerks to stand and read amendments -- sometimes for hours."

Bennet said his plan allows the Senate to "continue to be the deliberative chamber, but we can no longer allow it to be the chamber that needlessly stops important legislation in its tracks."

The new rules also include ending the practice of one senator being able to secretly block votes and a rules change that would slash by a third the number of presidential appointments that need Senate approval.

The agreement came as the Senate prepared to vote against proposals by several Democrats that would put more formal restrictions on the right of the minority to hold up or block bills and nominations through filibusters.

The institution has been plagued in recent years by procedural delays, often the result of partisan differences. Public displeasure with Congress was a key factor in the fall midterm elections that saw Republicans recapture the House and increase their strength in the Senate. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll showed that 69 percent of those polled disapprove of Congress, and only 26 percent view it favorably.

Reid, D-Nev., defended the central premise of the filibuster, saying debate without time limits was "in our DNA" in the Senate. But he said, "We have to act because when abuses keep us from doing our work, . . . they stop us from working for the American people."

McConnell said he was optimistic that he and Reid could "convince our colleagues that we ought to get back to operating the Senate the way we did as recently as three or four years ago, when bills came up, and they were open for amendment, and we voted on amendments, and at some point, the bill would be completed."

Republicans have defended their use of the filibuster -- which requires a supermajority of 60 votes to overcome and can effectively kill many bills -- saying it was in response to Democrats limiting the number of amendments they can offer to bills.

The compromise did not extend to filibusters that block efforts to cut off debate and bring a bill to a final vote.

Denver Post staff writer Allison Sherry contributed to this report.


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