The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 21, 2013

Democrats vote to curb filibusters on appointees

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats eased the way for swift approval of President Barack Obama's current and future nominees on Thursday, voting unilaterally to overturn decades of Senate precedent and undermine Republicans' ability to block final votes.

The 52-48 vote to undercut venerable filibuster rules on presidential appointees capped more than a decade of struggle in which presidents of both parties complained about delays in confirming appointees, particularly to the federal courts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who launched the move, accused Republicans of "unbelievable, unprecedented obstruction" of Obama's selections to fill court vacancies and other offices.

"It's time to change the Senate, before this institution becomes obsolete," he said.

His Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, accused Democrats of exercising raw power and said they would regret it when political fortunes switched.

He likened the effort to the president's since-discredited promise that Americans who like their health care can keep it under "Obamacare," noting that Reid promised last summer he wouldn't seek to change the process for approving appointees. "He may as well just have said, 'If you like the rules of the Senate, you can keep them,' " McConnell said.

At issue was a rule that can require a 60-vote majority to assure a yes-or-no vote on presidential nominees to the courts or to Cabinet departments or other agencies.

Under a parliamentary maneuver scripted in advance, Democrats led by Reid sought to change proceedings so that only a simple majority was required to clear the way for a final vote.

Supreme Court nominations would be exempted from the change and subject to a traditional filibuster, the term used to describe the 60-vote requirement to limit debate.

The move was backed by all but three Democrats and opposed by all the Senate's Republicans. Democratic dissidents were Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

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