On Thursday, the Senate approved two resolutions making both temporary and permanent procedural changes—to the detriment of the rights of the minority party as well as individual Senators on both sides of the aisle.
The first resolution was in the form of a standing rule to be in place for two years that addresses a new means to proceed to bills and an exemption for certain nominations from the threat of a filibuster.
S.Res. 15, which passed by a vote of 78-16, guarantees each party two amendments, but restricts the ability to filibuster proceeding to debate on an underlying matter. This measure, among other things, sought to assuage Senate Republicans’ complaint that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “fills the amendment tree” as means to block conservative amendments to bills. This procedure blocks any amendments from being offered by Senate conservatives and serves to squelch the only voice minority-party and non-leadership Senators possess.
Additionally, this measure narrows post-cloture debate on judicial and non-Cabinet-level nominations from 30 hours to two, guaranteeing insufficient vetting of presidential appointees, who in many cases will retain their positions virtually for life. Furthermore, if there is no threat of a filibuster on lower court nominations, the President will have an incentive to nominate even more extremists to the federal courts.
The second resolution is a permanent change to the rules. S.Res. 16, agreed to by a margin of 86-9, changes the Standing Rules of the Senate to, among other things, shorten debate on motions to proceed when 16 Senators of both parties agree. It also limits the opportunities to filibuster a bill before it gets to conference from three times to one.
The problem with the Senate is not the rules, it is the members. The Majority Leader does not want to face tough votes, because doing so will expose the division within his own caucus. In an effort to avoid accountability, Senator Reid would rather force changes in the rules that disenfranchise those Senators outside of the ranks of leadership, regardless of party affiliation. Although he and then-Senator Barack Obama were adamant supporters of the filibuster when in the minority, now that they are in the majority, Reid envisions a Senate that procedurally mirrors the House of Representatives, not the Senatorial saucer where legislation is poured from the House to cool, as the Founders intended.