- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Centrist senators, emboldened by this week’s success in brokering a deal to end Democrats’ shutdown filibuster, are now eyeing even bigger goals, such as limiting the damage filibusters can do to the Senate schedule, and finding ways to force the annual spending bills to get votes on the floor.

Calling themselves the Common Sense Caucus, the centrists said they think there’s room to try to end some of the gridlock that’s snared the chamber in recent years — as long as both sides are involved.

One avenue senators are pursuing would limit the amount of time the Senate spends debating a nomination even after it’s voted to end a filibuster. But the most action appears to be on the annual spending process, where the threat of a filibuster derailed action last year on all 12 of the bills needed to keep the government open.

Without those bills, the government has been running on stopgap money — creating the opportunity for mischief such as the recent three-day partial government shutdown.

Sen. Roy Blunt, the No. 4-ranking Senate Republican, said Tuesday that some rank-and-file Democrats think they’ve gone too far in gumming up the legislative works, particularly when it comes to spending bills.

“I talked to a number of Democrats yesterday who want to rethink where they are,” the Missouri lawmaker said.

Republicans say Democrats forced the shutdown by demanding any government funding bill be tied to action on illegal immigration — even though a firm deadline for immigration doesn’t hit until March 5.

The fight left some Republicans — including President Trump — wondering if the Senate shouldn’t eliminate the filibuster, allowing a majority to get things done instead of the 60-vote threshold to overcome the procedural roadblock.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tamped down on that talk, but said Democrats are making it tougher to preserve the filibuster given their frequent use.

Senators on both sides of the aisle have long talked about changes, such as limiting bills to only a single filibuster. Under current rules, senators can filibuster going to a bill, and then filibuster its final passage.

“If it comes out of the committee unanimous or two-thirds, don’t you think it should at least get a vote on the floor?” said Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat.

Republicans have also said that since the start of the Trump administration, Democrats have slow-walked the president’s judicial and executive branch nominees, even when they had bipartisan or unanimous support coming out of committee.

In an effort to get the process moving, Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, is pushing a proposal to cut down the traditional 30 hours of debate time per nominee to two hours for district court judges and eight hours for most executive branch nominees. Cabinet-level posts and appeals and Supreme Court judgeships would still get up to 30 hours of debate.

Mr. Lankford said Tuesday he’s getting increased interest from his Republican colleagues.

“I think Sen. Lankford’s idea makes perfect sense and we will see where it goes,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Democrats haven’t flocked to Mr. Lankford’s idea, though some have expressed frustration with how the Senate has been working.

Sen. Christopher Coons said both parties have abused the power to slow-walk nominees.

“It is not constructive. And if we had more trust between the caucuses and between our leadership, and if we had a more functional Senate, we would be able to move folks who were not objectionable,” Mr. Coons, Delaware Democrat, told radio show host Hugh Hewitt.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he hopes there’s support for Mr. Lankford’s proposal but that it’s up to the senator to get enough lawmakers on board.

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