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Leahy, Sanders note positive rule changes in Senate

January 27, 2011

Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — A procedure that has allowed minority Republicans — and Democrats before them — to stymie legislation in the U.S. Senate will remain, but other rule changes passed Thursday are meaningful steps toward returning the famously deliberative body to function, according to Vermont’s two members.

The filibuster, which requires 60 votes to progress legislation, remains after measures to curtail its use failed. But no longer will senators be able to place secret “holds” on bills or nominations. Those anonymous road blocks were stripped Thursday.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and independent, voted in favor Thursday of several failing efforts to strip or weaken the filibuster. Still, progress was made, he said.

“The old rules let senators use parliamentary tactics to block bills that had broad, bipartisan support. Legislation could be stopped without senators even coming to the Senate floor to debate the merits of a bill. The old rules let senators secretly hold up nominees for judgeships and other offices subject to Senate confirmation. Practices designed to protect the rights of minorities were hijacked by Republicans to delay for the sake of delay. To be blunt, the Senate too often was dysfunctional,” Sanders said. “That is why I voted in favor of several reforms that would have gone a long way toward cleaning up the mess while preserving meaningful opportunities for senators on both sides of the aisle to seriously debate an issue.”

Although it remains, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also came to a handshake agreement to limit the use of filibusters. Democrats will allow more GOP amendments in exchange for more sparing use of the stall tactic that Republicans have used in record numbers in recent years.

Reid and McConnell also came to an agreement that will significantly reduce the number of presidential appointments that require Senate approval.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“While some proposals I supported did not pass, I am pleased that the Senate agreed to at least some modest but meaningful revisions of its rules. We have ended secret holds, reduced the number of presidential nominations that require Senate confirmation, ended the ability of a single senator to force the reading of an amendment as a delaying tactic, and reduced the use of filibusters to block even taking up a bill for debate,” Sanders said.

David Carle, a spokesman for Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, said Leahy hopes Thursday’s developments will lead to more progress.

“Senator Leahy believes the agreement is a step forward to curb abuses and improve transparency. He hopes senators will work in good faith to find consensus on vital legislation to avoid future filibusters. He also hopes that regular order can be restored to hold votes in a timely way on nominations to fill vacancies,” Carle wrote.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Leahy also sent a letter to Reid and McConnell on Wednesday urging that Republicans also be allowed to serve as presiding officers during Senate debates, Carle said.

“This bipartisan approach was the practice when I began serving in the Senate 36 years ago and returning to it will serve as an important signal of renewed bipartisan cooperation in this new Congress,” Leahy wrote.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at

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