Senators Hint at Scaled-Down Rules Reform Package

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 25 2011 2:32 PM

Senators Hint at Scaled-Down Rules Reform Package

In short press scrums around the Senate today, it certainly sounded like Senate rules reform 1) would happen and 2) would be far, far less than liberals were hoping. Remember Sen. Tom Udall's argument that the rules could be changed on 51 votes? That's not happening . Instead, Democrats and some Republicans are talking about very minor changes.

"I'm not going to write an agreement in public," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who said the talks were ongoing. "Two of the areas that senators of both parties have been working on for a long time, really a dozen a years, is to make it easier for the president to staff the government, and to abolish secret holds." That's it, though: No filibuster reform. "My hope is that the Senate remains a place where it takes 60 votes to achieve a result on a major issue, because that forces a consensus."

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Sen. Claire McCaskill, asked about reform, held up two crossed fingers and hoped that at the very least the ban on secret holds would happen. "I really am very very hopeful that we will get way more than 67 votes," she said. "It might be the shining star of bipartisan accomplishment in terms of making the Senate more accountable to the people."

Sixty-seven votes would mean 53 Democrats, presumably, and 14 Republicans. I caught up briefly with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the strict constructionist who replaced Bob Bennett, who said he was "generally resistant with efforts to change the rules." And Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) bristled a bit when a reporter asked how many votes it would take "to change the rules."

"Or not change the rules," cautioned Reid. "We're working through that. We don't have the pathway yet to get through this."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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