A Senate panel yesterday sidestepped a controversial proposal for a drastic change in the chamber's filibuster rules as it approved a long list of other changes aimed at overcoming procedural obstacles that frequently paralyze Senate operations.
Under pressure from Democrats, Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), chairman of a temporary select committee appointed by the Senate to recommend changes in its heavily strained committee system, agreed to drop a proposal to make it easier to close off unlimited debate on the Senate floor.
The proposal, while increasing from 60 to as many as 67 the number of votes needed to impose debate-limiting cloture, also would have put more stringent limits on post-cloture delaying tactics, thereby assuring eventual passage of legislation.
Instead, the panel urged only a "more meaningful cloture procedure," and offered no further details.
The committee then unanimously approved the rest of Quayle's proposals but only after agreeing that it was taking only a "consensus" position, meaning members could disagree over specific recommendations and were free to oppose them when they go to the Senate floor, presumably after the 99th Congress convenes in January.
Quayle later met with Senate Majority Leader-elect Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and reported that Dole was interested in the proposals and inclined toward postponing committee assignments until January to give time for consideration of the panel's proposals on limiting the proliferation of committee assignments.
Quayle, one of the most outspoken critics of the Senate's operations, conceded to reporters after the session that the panel's reluctance to tackle specific changes in the filibuster rules indicated the likelihood of a "rough and tumble" fight over the issue next year.
But he noted the absence of serious complaint about other major proposals, including those that could limit membership on committees and enable the Senate to avoid a proliferation of nongermane amendments on legislation.
Under the committee's proposals, senators would be limited to three committee assignments and 30 subcommittees would be abolished.
Quayle also observed that there was no objection to a filibuster restriction that would prevent tactics to bar a bill from being brought up. Many of the filibusters this year were against a strictly procedural "motion to proceed" to a bill, which often stretched out the delaying tactics until the measure was withdrawn. The panel recommended a two-hour time limit on such motions.
Other proposals approved by the panel include merger of the House and Senate intelligence committees into a joint committee and creation of another select committee to study creation of a two-year, instead of annual, budget process for the Congress.
But there was a division of opinion over a recommendation to retain but extend from eight to 10 years the limitation on a senator's tenure on the intelligence panel, with some senators saying the limitation should be dropped or left to a decision by the Senate leadership.
There were some misgivings about creation of a new budget-study panel. "I hope this committee is not best remembered for creating another committee," said Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.).