The U.S. Senate has approved a modest curb on procedural delaying tactics, known as filibusters, that minority parties have long used to kill legislation and block confirmation of presidential nominees.
The changes, negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reduce the number of times opponents of bills and nominees can use the filibuster. In turn, a minority party gains greater opportunity to offer amendments to pending legislation.
The new rules also impose limits on the time spent debating some bills and nominations, and compress the amount of time it takes to get a bill through the Senate.
President Barack Obama praised the deal in a statement late Thursday and said he is hopeful it will pave the way for the Senate to make meaningful progress on its legislative tasks in the weeks and months ahead. He thanked both major political parties for streamlining the process of reviewing his nominees for judicial positions.
Both sides describe the measures as part of a push to break the gridlock that has left Congress inefficient, and, in the eyes of many voters, ineffective.
Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, noted the growing public dissatisfaction with the ways Congress goes about its business.
“Americans are fed up and angry with the broken government. In too many critical areas, people see a Congress riven with dysfunction. Citizens see their legislature going from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis. They see a legislature that is unable to respond effectively to the most urgent challenges of our time,” Harkins said.
Sen. John McCain, a Republican, described the end results that he hopes the new rules will achieve.
“The object, and I believe the outcome, of this hard-iron compromise will be a greater degree of comity in the Senate which will allow us to achieve the legislative goals that all of us seek,” McCain said.
Filibustering is a time-honored tactic in the U.S. Senate. But it was used only rarely, and then usually for the most controversial legislation before Congress.
In recent years, however, filibusters by individual senators were used to block action on many pieces of legislation and presidential nominations. Overturning a filibuster requires the consent of at least 60 of the 100 senators in the upper house of Congress — a measure of agreement that was very often too difficult to reach on controversial issues.
Many analysts say chronic overuse of tactics such as the filibuster has all but halted legislative progress entirely in Washington.