Saturday, January 29, 2011

Missed opportunity in the Senate

After three weeks of backroom discussions, the Senate retreated from significant changes to its rules. It failed even to get a majority in support of some rather mild but important changes pushed by a group of younger members. Instead, it abolished secret holds and banned the tactic of demanding a full reading of legislation that has been available for 72 hours. It's a shame, because the reform package stopped way short of eliminating the filibuster [something I think is unattainable, but I do favor disincentives against its abuse]. I wish at least that Senators had made the motion to proceed to debate on measures nondebatable.

My sense is that the leadership preferred a handshake deal to formal changes in the rules. And their deal was not to use filibusters or amendment-blocking tactics as much in the coming Congress. In fact, the same approach was taken the last time members were on the verge of setting a big precedent in favor of rules changes by majority vote. I guess Democrats were too worried about what might happen in 2013 if the Republicans gain a majority, and they were willing to accept assurances from the Republican leader. Too bad. No doubt we'll see the consequences of these agreements when Congress ties itself in knots over the debt limit increase.

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