The list of reforms is short and unlikely to fundamentally repair the broken Senate, but it does include some genuinely helpful reforms to the nominations process — in addition to a major concession to the Republican minority. Here are the three biggest winners and losers in this package:
- Republicans: The package creates a new process that gives Republicans the ability to offer two amendments on any bill that cannot be blocked by the Majority Leader, although there is a process by which consensus bills can be streamlined if a substantial number of Republicans consent. More importantly, however, by not including any real limits on the minority’s power to force 60 vote majorities on nearly any bill or nomination, Republicans retain their veto power over matters they wish to block.
- District Judges: Currently, Senate rules allow the minority to force up to 30 hours of wasted time before a single nominee can be confirmed. Because Senate floor time is limited, this leads to many confirmations being delayed for months or killed entirely simply because the Majority Leader cannot afford to budget the time to move the nomination forward. The proposal reduces the amount of time that can be wasted while confirming a federal trial judge to 2 hours, significantly reducing the time cost of such confirmations.
- Sub-Cabinet Officials: Meanwhile, the 30 hours of wasted time on sub-cabinet officials’ confirmation votes is reduced to 8 hours.
- Circuit Judges, Supreme Court Justices & Cabinet Officials: The senior most Senate-confirmed jobs — justices, court of appeals judges and the most powerful executive branch officials — are still subject to 30 hours of delay.
- The Tea Party: The package reduces the number of opportunities to obstruct a bill that is supported by the Minority Leader and at least 7 Republicans, meaning that senators like Rand Paul (R-KY) or Mike Lee (R-UT) will have fewer chances to block progress on matters that everyone but a few Tea Party extremists support.
- The Future: The most significant changes in this package — the reduced hours for nominees and the two free amendments for the minority — sunset in two years and thus will cease to exist in the 114th Congress unless reinstated.