Today Senator Harry Reid and Senator Mitch McConnell had a bit of a fight over offering amendments to a China currency manipulation bill. The resulting vote will change the way the Senate operates. We'e heard lots of false claims, so we want to set the record straight with a procedure guide to what happened.
(1) First of all, what Senator Harry Reid used was nothing remotely close to the "nuclear option." It did not change any filibuster or voting traditions.
(2) Instead, Senator Reid's maneuver affects amendments offered after any filibuster should have ended with "cloture," which is a timetable to end debate invoked with 60 votes in the Senate.
(3) Furthermore, the maneuver had absolutely nothing to do with the consideration of the American Jobs Act, but with the bill dealing with Chinese currency manipulation.
Here's exactly what happened on the Senate floor that day in terms of procedure. We're the only ones to get it right.
The Senate had earlier invoked cloture on a bill dealing with Chinese currency/exchange rate manipulation. Cloture creates a timeline to end debate on a bill. Once cloture has been invoked, irrelevant amendments are out of order. Further, all first and second degree amendments must be offered by a certain time. Before cloture is invoked, amendments may be considered not withstanding these rules.
Motion To Suspend The Rules
In order to have further amendments considered during this time, Senators need to file motions to suspend the provisions of Rule 22 of the Standing Rules of the Senate (the formal articulation of the cloture rule. The motion to suspend the rules waives the provisions of certain rules if agreed to through a two-thirds vote, but it was rarely used to circumvent cloture rules until recently. Republicans had inundated the bill under consideration with non-germane amendments considered under this bill and in violation of the timetable to end debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (generously, in our opinion) agreed on seven non-germane Republican amendments that could be considered under this unusual parliamentary procedure.
The conflict erupted when Senator Reid asked for unanimous consent to have seven amendments considered under suspension of the cloture rules and Senator McConnell objected on the grounds that Senator Reid had substituted a different Republican amendment for an amendment that the two had agreed to consider under the rules.
Point of Order To Change the Senate Precedents
Here's where it gets hairy: The Senate operates under both formalized rules and precedents. The easiest way to understand it is to analogize: think of the rules as the exact text of the Constitution and the precedents as the rulings of the Supreme Court on interpretation.
Senator Reid therefore brought up the motion to suspend the rules on one of Senator Tom Coburn's amendments and raised a point of order against it on the grounds that using the motion to suspend the rules to force consideration of non-germane amendments after the cloture timeline for ending debate has been invoked. The Chair ruled against this point of order, at which point a vote of the Senate overruled his judgment.
Therefore, the Senate is today left with a momentous new precedent: motions to suspend the rules for post-cloture consideration of non-germane amendments are now dilatory.
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