U.S. Senate leaders have reached a bipartisan deal preserving the filibuster -- a time-honored procedural delaying tactic that minority parties have long used to block bills and confirmation of presidential nominees.
The pact, reached Tuesday by Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican John McCain, stops a Democratic threat to change the rules so that presidential nominees would face simple majority votes. Had the issue come to a vote, majority Democrats in the Senate were poised to scrap the delaying tactic entirely, further upsetting a chamber already split by sharp partisan divides.
As Tuesday's deal was announced and after months of delay, Senate leaders agreed to proceed to a final vote on the first of seven nominations put forth by President Barack Obama that had been blocked by Republicans.
The president later said he was pleased with the Senate action, noting that the chamber has failed to act for political reasons on nominees named to important posts over the past two years.
Mr. Obama also said he hopes Congress will work in the same spirit of cooperation to advance other urgent priorities, including action to pass what he called "commonsense immigration reform."
The filibuster procedure -- first used in the Senate in the mid-19th century -- allows a minority party to endlessly debate a bill or nominee, stalling and sometimes preventing an actual vote. Historically, the procedure was used only rarely, and then usually for the most controversial legislation before Congress.
In recent years, however, filibusters by individual senators have been used to block action on a wide array of legislation and nominations.
Many analysts say the chronic overuse of the tactic has all but halted legislative progress in Washington entirely.