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July 15, 2013

Party leaders spar over rule changes

WASHINGTON — Proposed changes to Senate rules would either ease the way for President Barack Obama to assemble his second-term team or permanently threaten the body’s deliberative style, the chamber’s top Democratic and Republican lawmaker said Sunday.

Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell once again strongly disagreed during separate television segments on the eve of a rare closed-door summit that could reduce the Senate’s reputation as deliberative to the point of inaction. Reid and McConnell — along with their rank-and-file members — have been trading barbs over just what the proposed changes would be, both for Obama’s current slate of nominees who are awaiting confirmation and for future senators who prize their ability to delay action.

Democrats, who are the majority in the Senate, are pushing to erode the rights of minority Republicans to block confirmation of Obama’s picks for posts on a labor rights board and a consumer protection bureau. Republicans previously stalled confirmation votes for Obama’s pick for labor secretary and chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Export-Import Bank, but last week GOP lawmakers stepped aside and said they would allow those nominees to move forward.

Reid said the changes were not about the appointment of judges or passing legislation. “This is allowing the people of America to have a president who can have his team,” he said.

McConnell called Democrats’ proposed changes contrary to Senate tradition, which typically requires 60 votes to end debate and move forward on nominations or legislation.

“I hope that we’ll come to our senses and not change the core of the Senate. We’ve never changed the rules of the Senate by breaking the rules of the Senate,” McConnell said.

All 100 senators — but not reporters or the public — have been invited to a meeting Monday evening to seek a compromise that a handful of lawmakers are now exploring.

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