US Senate approves filibuster reform

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

The US Senate has limited the power of the much-cursed filibuster, a procedural weapon long-used to delay legislation, in a bid to break the partisan logjam that has left the US Congress unproductive.

The rule changes fall short of stopping the right of minority Republicans to block votes by using filibusters – where a senator tries to delay or stop a vote on a Bill by debating it at length – but they curb the use of this congressional roadblock.

The Democrat-controlled Senate overwhelmingly approved the changes in a bipartisan vote that will stop Republicans from killing off consideration of a Bill before it is even debated. In return, a majority of Democrats will lose part of their capacity to block Republicans from trying to amend Bills from the floor of the Senate.

The rule changes fast-track the vetting of low-level nominations made by the president, reduce debate time before certain votes and require filibustering senators to make known their objections to a piece of legislation.

Loopholes

The time it takes for a Bill to pass will be reduced but the changes, many of which will expire with the new Congress in 2015, leave loopholes and avoid sweeping changes that could have created a more efficient Congress.

A super-majority of 60 votes will still be required in the 100-seat Senate to end a filibuster, despite demands by some Democrats to reduce it to 51.

The changes were passed in votes of 78 to 16 and 86 to nine on Thursday after being drafted by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Mitch McConnell, the minority Republican leader in the chamber, following weeks of negotiations. “Perhaps I’m too optimistic, but hopefully because of this we will be able to pass legislation,” said Republican senator John McCain.

US president Barack Obama, who has struggled to contend with a politically fractured Congress, praised the changes.

“Too often over the past four years, a single senator or a handful of senators has been able to unilaterally block or delay bipartisan legislation for the sole purpose of making a point,” Mr Obama said.

‘Unnecessary obstruction’

“At a time when we face critical decisions on a whole range of issues, from preventing further gun violence, to reforming our broken immigration system, to getting our fiscal house in order and creating good paying jobs, we cannot afford unnecessary obstruction,” he added.

Supporters of the filibuster say procedural blocks are required to protect the minority’s rights and push the majority into accepting compromise.

The late US senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster: he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes to delay the 1957 civil rights Bill.