Partisans on the left denounced it as so little as to be meaningless. Partisans on the right attacked it as a rape of minority rights. But a bipartisan group of U.S. senators who lean more toward the middle voted this past week to approve a modest reform of the filibuster that at least serves to remove a small bit of the grit locking up the gears of Congress.
A deal negotiated between Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell removes some of the pressure points where senators previously could block a bill from even coming up for consideration. It also cuts from three to one the number of opportunities for filibusters to prevent the Senate from conferencing with the House to iron out differences in bills each house has passed.
Manu Rajo, on Politico.com, explained how the changes works in some instances.
One path for immediately beginning debate would occur if Reid allowed both Democrats and Republicans to offer two amendments each to legislation. If the amendments were not relevant to the bill, they would be subject to a 60-vote threshold. Reid could block further amendments after votes to either accept or kill those four measures. This rules change would only take effect for two years with the option to renew it in the new Congress, and it would alleviate GOP concerns that Reid has prevented them from seeking to amend legislation.
On noncontroversial bills, if Reid and McConnell reach agreement, along with 14 other senators, votes to overcome filibusters would happen the day after Reid files a procedural motion — rather than the two-day rule that exists now. And after the filibuster is defeated in those consensus situations, the Senate could immediately begin debate, rather than wait out a full 30 hours required under current rules. This would be a permanent change of Senate rules.
Perhaps more important in all this is the fact that the Republicans and Democrats negotiated and reached some common ground. Reid had been urged to go much further with the reform, even if it meant changing the rules with only the votes of 51 senators. Why a majority vote is not considered good enough to approve something is a whole other discussion, but by taking this route Reid avoided creating a situation where the Republicans would have fought mightily to block any Democratic legislation, no matter what.
It's a small step. But a small step with good feelings on both sides is still a step in the right direction.