What’s the story?
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are reportedly close to finalizing a powersharing agreement that will allow the evenly-divided Senate to organize its committees and deal with amendments after both leaders declared victory in a standoff over the future of the legislative filibuster.
- Schumer noted in floor remarks Tuesday that “the Republican Leader dropped his demand for additional provisions on the organizing resolution and will agree to the 2001 rules that last governed a 50-50 Senate, exactly what Democrats proposed for the start.”
- McConnell dropped his request that Schumer publicly commit to preserving the filibuster, as McConnell did while he was majority leader, after Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) said they wouldn’t vote for the “nuclear option” to eliminate it. McConnell explained in floor remarks Tuesday that:
“The senior Senator for West Virginia issued a public ‘guarantee’: ‘I do not support doing away with the filibuster any condition.’ Any chance of changing his mind? Quote: ‘None whatsoever.’ The senior Senator for Arizona made the same commitment. She opposes ending the legislative filibuster and ‘is not open to changing her mind.’ Our colleague informed me directly that under no circumstances would she reverse course… Basic arithmetic now ensures that there are not enough votes to break the rule.”
What could the powersharing deal look like?
- The Senate’s current leaders are looking to base their powersharing agreement on what the chamber did the last time it was evenly divided between the two major parties, although the final agreement for the 117th Congress may have some differences from its predecessor in the 107th Congress.
- The Congressional Research Service notes that the last time the Senate was split 50-50 was a six month period in 2001, during which Democrats held the majority until January 20th when Vice President Al Gore left office, at which point Republicans held the majority by virtue of Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking vote until June 6th, when a senator’s party-change gave Democrats 51 seats and an outright majority.
- A powersharing deal was brokered by the leaders of the Democratic caucus and Republican conference ― Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), respectively. The agreement dealt with committee membership and procedures, floor proceedings, and other matters.
- All Senate committees had an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.
- A full committee chair was able to discharge a measure or nomination from a subcommittee if it was deadlocked due to a tie vote.
- The majority or minority leader, after consulting with committee leaders, could discharge a measure or nomination that wasn’t reported because of a tie vote. The discharge motion would be debated on the floor and could be discharged by majority vote, at which point the bill or nomination could be considered by the full Senate.
- The majority and minority leaders agreed to refrain from “filling the amendment tree” ― a process that ordinarily allows the majority leader to block the consideration of senators’ amendments to a bill on the floor.
- The motion to proceed to an item on the Senate’s calendar of bills and nominations reported by, or discharged from, committees was the prerogative of the majority leader. However, the agreement acknowledged that Senate Rules allow for the minority leader or another senator to make a motion to proceed.
- The majority and minority leaders agreed to not file a cloture motion, which is the legislative filibuster that requires a 60 vote threshold to limit debate before a final vote, on an amendable item (e.g. a bill or amendment) during the first 12 hours it was debated. Because a motion to proceed isn’t amendable, the restriction doesn’t apply and cloture can be filed on the motion to proceed, which prevents a senator from delaying proceedings using a talking filibuster.
- Senators from the minority party were permitted to serve as the presiding officer of the Senate, an activity typically reserved for senators from the majority.
- Budgets and office space for all committees were equally divided.
- Both parties had equal access to common space in the Capitol complex for holding meetings, press conferences, and similar events.
— Eric Revell
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