Senate Adopts New Rules on Filibusters

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Proposal Reduces Vote Total to 51 From 60 on Most Presidential Nominees.

A bitterly divided Senate voted Thursday to ease the confirmation process for most presidential nominees, a momentous and potentially risky step that limits the ability of Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s choices for executive-branch and most judicial posts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) engineered the rules change, over Republican objections, with a complicated parliamentary maneuver that ended up placing new curbs on the use of the filibuster—a move so controversial that it is often called the “nuclear option.”

“The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken…It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Mr. Reid said.

The key vote was 52-48, with all but three Democrats—Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Joe Manchin of West Virginia—voting for the change and all 45 Republicans opposed.

The move would limit the ability of the minority party to deploy the filibuster, a delaying and blocking tactic. In an institution that prides itself on giving power to the minority party, the filibuster is the minority’s main source of leverage. Its most vivid portrait in popular culture came in the movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

The rule change advanced by Mr. Reid makes it easier to confirm nominations along party lines, by allowing them to proceed with just 51 votes. Currently, Republicans have the power to require 60 votes, by invoking filibusters, in order for a confirmation to proceed. The change would apply to most executive branch and judicial nominations, but not to nominations to the Supreme Court and to legislation.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Obama said he supported the Senate action, which he said was an appropriate response to an “unprecedented” level of obstruction by Senate Republicans to his nominees.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Republicans had approved 99 percent of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees and that the change would diminish the Senate’s constitutional “advice and consent” role in assessing nominations.

He said Mr. Reid was trying to divert attention from the flawed rollout by the Obama administration of the 2010 health-care law, and said the drive to change Senate rules represented a raw use of power akin to the tactic used to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Since late October, Republican senators have blocked Mr. Obama’s pick to lead the agency that oversees Fannie Mae FNMA +5.99% and Freddie Mac FMCC +4.37% and three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Shortly after changing the rules, Senate Democrats used the new, 51-vote threshold to advance to a final vote after a Thanksgiving recess the nomination of Patricia Millett to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Ms. Millett’s nomination cleared a procedural hurdle with support from 55 senators. Republicans previously had blocked her nomination under the 60-vote requirement.

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