The chairman of a special Senate panel has recommended radical changes in the Senate's filibuster rules and the merger of congressional intelligence committees to streamline Senate procedures.
Other proposals call for a top-to-bottom revamping of the Senate's committee system and initial steps toward adoption of a two-year budget cycle to supplant the annual budgeting that occupies most of Congress' time every year.
The recommendations from Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), chairman of a temporary select committee on the committee system, came after procedural stalemates virtually paralyzed the Senate several times this year.
Although several of Quayle's ideas are highly controversial and viewed as unlikely to go far, his proposals are expected to provide the framework for a major debate early next year on how the Senate can improve its daily operations.
Quayle's recommendations, drafted earlier this month, will be considered by members of the select committee at a meeting on Nov. 29, the day after Senate Republicans choose their leaders. Quayle said he hopes his committee will complete its work in time for action by the Rules Committee and the entire Senate shortly after the 99th Congress convenes Jan. 3.
Among the most controversial of Quayle's proposals are those dealing with the filibuster and other long-standing rules and customs designed to ensure that minority views get sufficient consideration.
One key proposal would make it more difficult to impose cloture to shut off a filibuster but would make it easier for the Senate to get to a final vote after cloture is invoked.
It now takes 60 of the 100 senators to invoke cloture. Although cloture is imposed with increasing frequency, senators have become increasingly creative in exploiting loopholes in the rules, with the result that filibusters can be almost interminable.
Quayle would change the vote required for cloture to two-thirds of those present and voting, 67 senators if all vote. But he would bar filibusters on preliminary procedural motions and put firm new limits on post-cloture delaying tactics.
"Filibuster and cloture were meant for great issues, but they have become trivialized as recent history all too clearly demonstrates," Quayle said in a report on his proposals.
He noted that the Senate voted seven times on cloture petitions during the last six weeks of the 98th Congress, half of them on procedures. By contrast, he said, it voted on cloture four times during four years of the intense legislative struggle over civil rights in the mid-1960s.
His proposed changes, he said, would "make cloture not only more difficult to invoke but more effective when invoked."
Quayle also proposed changes in the Senate's much-abused germaneness rule. His proposals would impose some control over extraneous legislative "riders" while preserving the right of lawmakers to get consideration for an issue that would otherwise not reach the Senate floor.
Quayle would allow 60 percent of those present and voting to block a proposed amendment as nongermane or to overturn a ruling of the chair that an amendment is nongermane.
Saying the Senate's committee system is not serving its purpose as a "legislative filter and refiner," Quayle proposed limiting each senator's committee and subcommittee assignments and curtailing the proliferation of subcommittees.
On intelligence committees, Quayle said the House and Senate panels should be combined into a joint committee appointed by the leadership of both houses and served by a "small professional staff." The joint committee would be patterned after the old Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.
Support for a joint intelligence committee has been growing in the wake of criticism of congressional oversight of Central Intelligence Agency operations, although opposition is strong as well.
There is mounting interest in changing the budget process, although a special panel appointed by the House Democratic Caucus recommended a sharply different way of doing it. The House plan would wrap budget, tax and spending bills into one legislative package to be enacted under stringent time restraints.
Quayle would create a special panel to devise rules for a two-year budget process that would allow for more orderly consideration of program authorizations, budget targets, appropriations, tax measures and oversight of programs.