Month: April 2017
Possible Government Shutdown Looms

In the run-up to last year’s contentious elections, Congress was unable to agree on FY 2017 appropriations for most of the government’s departments and agencies, instead passing a stopgap measure (called a “continuing resolution” or “CR”) to keep federal departments and agencies operating at...

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The Senate’s “Nuclear Option” — How it Works and Why it Matters

Charles S. Konigsberg served as Chief Counsel on the Minority Staff of the Senate Rules Committee, General Counsel at the Senate Finance Committee, counsel at the Senate Budget Committee, and Senate liaison at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

We are about to witness a major change in how the U.S. Senate operates – the so-called “nuclear option.”  Following is an explanation of how it works and why it matters....

On November 21, 2013, the Senate created a major exception to the 60-vote cloture threshold. In a procedural vote, the Senate adopted a precedent that ending a filibuster on a President’s executive and judicial appointments would only require a simple majority of Senators voting. The precedent specifically excluded nominations to the Supreme Court, which still requires 60 votes to end a filibuster.

What made this 2013 precedent “nuclear,” is the way the Rules change was accomplished.  The Senate ignored its own Standing Rules requiring that: (i) changes to the Rules can occur only with prior written notice; and (ii) debate on a Rules change can only be brought to a close upon a two-thirds vote of the Senate (67 Senators if all are present).  The Standing Rules very deliberately set a high threshold for changing the rules.

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