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Senate to nix secret holds but keep filibuster rules intact

From NBC's Ken Strickland
In an agreement reached between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the world's most deliberative body will not change its rules on the filibuster after all.

A group of mostly freshmen senators were denied an opportunity to make changes with only a simple majority. They argue that the Senate rules allow that on the first day of a new session, the body may amend its rules with only 51 'yeas' instead of the 67 normally required. Democrats refer to this as "the constitutional option."

But Senate leaders have agreed not to take what many Republicans and some Democrats believe would be too drastic a step.

"Senator McConnell and I both believe that our reverence for this institution must always be more important than party," Reid said in a written statement. "And as part of this compromise, we have agreed that I won't force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate - that is, the so-called 'constitutional option.'"

The leaders agreed to five things that Reid said will lead to "a healthier Senate." Three of the changes are concrete, while the remaining two are more aspirational.

The first three:
1. Eliminating "secret holds," which can delay a nomination or legislation
2. Eliminating the tactic of forcing the Senate clerk of reading of an amendment aloud if it has already been publicly available for 72 hours
3. Creating legislation to exempt about 1/3 of all presidential nominations from the Senate confirmation process. These would primarily be low-level nominations for positions not directly involved with policy decisions.

In the remaining two:
4. Republican Leader McConnell agreed that he too would not try to change the Senate rules with the constitutional option "in this congress or the next Congress."
5. McConnell agreed to reduce his use of the filibuster on motions that bring the bills to the floor for debate. (There was no agreement on the frequency of filibusting bills before passage.) And Reid agreed to reduce his practice of "filling the tree," which blocks Republicans from offering amendments.

The first two items in the agreement will be codified with votes later today, which are expected to pass.

There will also be votes on the more dramatic changes to the filibuster rules that a small band of Democrats initially sought, but they will be subjected to a threshold of 67 votes (if all Senators are present), and are not expected to pass.