Senate Approves Power-Sharing Plan to Govern 50-50 Senate

The U.S. Senate approved a two-year power sharing deal negotiated by top leaders of both parties that gives Democrats committee chairmanships and sets other ground rules, allowing the chamber to begin fully functioning after weeks of procedural limbo.

The agreement approved by unanimous consent Wednesday is based on a 2001 deal reached the last time the 100-member chamber was divided 50-50. The accord allows the same number of Republicans and Democrats on committees and gives each party an even split of panel budgets. Democrats, though, will control committee gavels and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will set the agenda on the floor.

As part of the final deal, Schumer agreed that he will limit his use of parliamentary tactics to keep minority-party Republicans from offering amendments to bills.

In a written statement formally placed in the Senate record, Schumer said he would only block amendments if “dilatory measures prevent the Senate from taking action and leave no alternatives. Senators from both sides will be able to offer amendments.”

McConnell said in the statement that this understanding will be key as the Senate begins working in earnest.

“The right to offer amendments is important to Senators on our side as well, and we look forward to full and vigorous debates, including amendments, as the Senate takes up the many important issues before us,” McConnell said.

Schumer announced earlier Wednesday that a deal had been struck and said it will spur committee work on President Joe Biden’s priorities and his cabinet-level nominations as Democratic chairmen will be in place and ground rules will be set for the structure of Senate panels.

“I’ve already instructed the incoming Democratic chairs of all relevant committees to begin holding hearings on the climate crisis in preparation for enacting President Biden’s build back better agenda, which includes major climate legislation,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

While confirmations need just a simple majority vote, Republicans will still have significant sway on policy matters as long as the legislative filibuster remains intact. They are already signaling that they will oppose key parts of Biden’s agenda, including climate-change legislation and an overhaul of immigration policy.

GOP Opposition

McConnell has said Biden’s climate proposals will cost American jobs and competitiveness. It could also be a challenge for Schumer to keep centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana voting with the party on policies that would change the U.S. energy matrix.

And most Republicans have rejected Biden’s immigration plan as too generous for people who came to the U.S. illegally. That opposition -- and the Senate’s need to confirm Biden’s cabinet and address the coronavirus pandemic -- threatens to push debate over immigration into later this year.

Senate leaders spent weeks negotiating the organizing resolution, and McConnell days ago dropped a demand that Schumer promise not to end the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes for most bills after two moderate Democrats -- Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona -- said they don’t support changing current Senate practice. Progressive Democrats are still pushing to erode the filibuster rule to allow the majority party to pass legislation with just 51 votes.

Democrats only have the majority by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris‘s tie-breaking vote.

The Senate has only been evenly divided three times before: in 1881, 1953 and 2001.

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