WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate neared approval Thursday of a modest curb on filibusters, using a bipartisan consensus rare in today's rugged political climate to make it a bit harder but still not impossible for determined, outnumbered senators to sink or slow bills and nominations.
The changes negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would reduce the number of times opponents may use filibusters, the delaying tactics that minority parties in the chamber long have used to kill legislation, but not eliminate them. It would also limit the time spent debating some bills and nominations.
Ironically, votes to streamline the rules were held in the evening of a long, painfully typical day for the chamber that featured a sprinkling of senators' speeches and long period when the Senate chamber idled with nothing happening. Off the floor, private negotiations were held nailing down the agreement's final details.
The pact does not represent a dramatic reworking of Senate rules and leaves the minority party with far more power than it has in the House, where procedures allow a united majority party to muscle through its priorities.
But it would streamline some of the Senate's work and avoid what could have been prolonged, nasty battling between the two parties if Democrats — frustrated by the GOP's growing reliance on the delays — tried ramming through more decisive changes.
In an irony that underscores the Senate's complex rules, it was expected to take the chamber two votes to approve the changes.
The curbs on filibusters fall short of what Reid initially said he favored months ago. He wanted to completely ban the tactic's use when the Senate tries to begin debating a measure, and he threatened to use Democrats' strength in the Senate to enact that change and perhaps others by a simple majority vote.
That tactic is called the "nuclear option" because of the bitter partisan warfare it would likely trigger in the chamber, potentially halting almost any business the Senate tried to conduct.
Typically, rules changes take a two-thirds majority.
The restrictions also fall far short of what some of the Senate's newer Democrats were demanding.
Their proposals included requiring filibustering senators to actually debate on the chamber's floor, a practice immortalized in the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" but seldom used in recent years. Instead, most filibusters in recent decades occur when a senator simply informs majority Democrats that they will need the votes of 60 of the 100 senators to end delaying tactics.
The No. 2 Senate Democratic leader, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said this week that Democrats lacked enough votes to force that proposal through the Senate.
Durbin said Thursday that the tentative deal was "great for the Senate," and said lawmakers who wanted tighter curbs would have to settle for less.
"That's how this world works," Durbin told reporters. "People start aspiring at very high levels, then you get a negotiation, then you reach something called compromise. And I think we are at that point."
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said that while he and many other Republicans didn't believe the changes were needed, "This does this without doing irreparable damage to the Senate as an institution."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., among a bipartisan group of eight senators who proposed changes similar to those embraced in the deal, said the agreement showed that cooperation across party lines remained possible.