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Coburn Reprises 2011 Senate Rules Debate

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tom Coburn’s last stand includes a reprise of a 2011 floor debate that helped lay the groundwork for last year’s “nuclear option” fight.  

The Oklahoma Republican, who is retiring early having been battling cancer, wants to try to reverse a precedent set just over three years ago. Until that point, rules and precedents had allowed senators to offer unrelated amendments even after the chamber had voted to limit debate — but a simple majority of Democrats effectively voted to change the rules and bar those unrelated amendments.  

Coburn secured an agreement to allow him to offer a motion to overturn that precedent as part of floor consideration of the annual defense authorization bill, one of the last must-pass bills of the 113th Congress. The defense bill is expected to easily clear for President Barack Obama’s signature in a Friday afternoon vote. As CQ Roll Call reported  in 2011:

When the presiding officer at the time, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), ruled that the motions sought by McConnell were not dilatory, a term of art meaning that they are intended to delay, Reid moved that the ruling of the chair be sustained. That led to a simple-majority vote that he wanted to lose and did, 48-51. The move set the precedent that such motions will no longer be allowed.

Reid’s power move appeared similar to a proposed “nuclear option” of changing the Senate filibuster rules with a simple majority. Reid did effectively change chamber rules with a simple majority vote, but the filibuster was unaffected. He said he still believes in the 60-vote rule and the right to filibuster. He also said he still disagrees with a GOP proposal from several years ago to do away with the filibuster for judicial nominations — the original “nuclear option.”

In addition to requiring a substantial amount of debate time be used on the defense authorization measure that includes an unrelated lands package, Coburn has announced — or likely has — objections to several other bills that appear to otherwise have broad, bipartisan support.  

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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