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Senate Ends First Day, Dashing One Strategy to Changes Rules

Updated: 1:09 a.m.

Senate leaders agreed on Tuesday to end their first day of the 112th Congress, according to two Democratic aides, in a move that scuttles a strategy to change the chamber’s rules while inching the Senate closer to an agreement on the issue.

The Senate has been frozen since the start of the 112th Congress as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Senate leaders have tried for the past three weeks to negotiate the issue with a group of mostly junior Democrats.

The less-senior lawmakers want to change Senate filibuster rules and other procedures that have been used by the minority to slow debate. The reform-minded Members had threatened to use a Senate procedure that would require only 51 votes to pass a rules change if it was conducted on the first day of the legislative session. Changing the rules traditionally requires 67 votes.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one of the lawmakers leading the push to change the filibuster rules, said the group of lawmakers simply didn’t have the votes required to change the rules on the first day. Other prominent proponents include Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Merkley said the effort nevertheless “moves a long way to reform.” He indicated that there will be a series of five to seven votes on various changes, including his proposal for a talking filibuster, which would require Members to stay in the chamber and maintain control of the floor when objecting to a bill.

Merkley predicted the votes would occur Thursday. It was unclear whether each of the proposals would need 67 votes to pass.

Democratic Policy and Communications Center Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) confirmed that votes would be held, but he declined to offer any specifics, telling reporters to “stay tuned.”

Schumer said that a number of Democrats had concerns about using a majority vote to change the Senate rules.

“There are a number of people in our caucus who had real doubts about it” for “obvious” reasons, Schumer said of the majority rules vote.

“I believe in the talking filibuster, but you need enough votes,” he added.

The decision to end the legislative day came after Senate Democrats and Republicans met Tuesday to discuss a deal by Schumer and Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) that would, among other things, restrict the use of secret holds and allow some nominees and Cabinet officials to advance unchallenged by the minority party.

Senate leaders also appear to be edging closer to a deal on committee ratios, according to at least one freshman Senator.

Sen. John Boozman told C-SPAN on Tuesday night that he understood that a deal had been reached by Senate leaders earlier in the day. He could receive committee assignments as soon as Wednesday, the Arkansas Republican said.

Democratic aides said that the process was not yet complete but that Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were close to finishing the delicate task of negotiating committee makeups.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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