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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Public option and the filibuster: An opportunity?

Senators Jay Rockefeller and Chuck Schumer are going to force a vote on a health care plan which includes a public option. If the vote threatens to pass, the Republicans will, of course, filibuster.

That could be the best news possible.

Long ago, the filibuster was rarely used, since it was linked to southern Democrats who wanted to maintain segregation. But ever since the stench of racism wore off, the Republicans have used filibusters routinely. Now, the Senate cannot get any work done unless the Democrats maintain a 60 vote advantage. The filibuster insures the tyranny of the minority.

The majority leader can require a traditional filibuster, which would mean the making of endless speeches and -- amusingly -- the wearing of diapers.

The Democrats would be required to maintain a quorum of at least 50 Senators. The Majority Leader can compel them to be in the building under threat of arrest. This situations encourages Republicans to stay out of the building, shmoozing with the press, while the Dems stay trapped inside. The only Republicans required to attend would be the one or two carrying out the actual filibuster. The whole point of a filibuster is to make life unbearable for the Dems sleeping in cots.

A nightmarish situation? You betcha. But I've noticed a curiosity in the Senate rules on cloture (breaking a filibuster). Study this excerpt, and then tell me whether my interpretation is off the mark:
2. Notwithstanding the provisions of rule II or rule IV or any other rule of the Senate, at any time a motion signed by sixteen Senators, to bring to a close the debate upon any measure, motion, other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, is presented to the Senate, the Presiding Officer, or clerk at the direction of the Presiding Officer, shall at once state the motion to the Senate, and one hour after the Senate meets on the following calendar day but one, he shall lay the motion before the Senate and direct that the clerk call the roll, and upon the ascertainment that a quorum is present, the Presiding Officer shall, without debate, submit to the Senate by a yea-and-nay vote the question:

"Is it the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close?" And if that question shall be decided in the affirmative by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn -- except on a measure or motion to amend the Senate rules, in which case the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting -- then said measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, shall be the unfinished business to the exclusion of all other business until disposed of.
Seems to me that a filibuster over health care could offer an opportunity to reduce the cloture requirement to a much more sensible 50 votes plus one.

Motions, if I understand the rules correctly, may arise at any time. Indeed, the public option bill itself could conceivably contain language about changing the Senate rules.

In all of the blog writing I've seen, the presumption holds that the rules of the Senate can be changed only if two thirds of all Senators agree to the change. In other words, the magic number is 67. But the wording here speaks of "two-thirds of the Senators present and voting." The very nature of a filibuster means that the Dems would be in the building and the Republicans would be gone. The magic number thus heads into the low 30s.

This could provide an opportunity to reform the Senate, to transform it into a body where a simple majority rules. This goes way beyond health care per se. One of the main problems with the Senate today is its inability to do anything, due to the supermajority requirement. To get the business of the nation done, the magic number should be 50, not 60. (I have long believed that supermajority requirements are anti-democratic and should be stricken from all legislatures.) If I am correct, then Rockefeller and Schumer may have found a way to change the rules once and for all.

Is my interpretation of Senate Rule 22 on or off the mark?
Comments:
Funny thing... I decided to do a little checking on your references to filibuster-ees wearing diapers. I went to google and searched "filibuster diaper."

Guess what the second search result was?
 
My feeling is the Senate needs to quit farting around on health care and pass--NOW--extended unemployment benefits for the MILLIONS of us who are out of work and with NO job prospects on the horizon.

I can't believe this. Obama has wasted months of political capital on an issue, the public option, that is never going to happen given the legalized bribery we have. He and Congress should have been working on JOBS programs the first day in office instead of wasting time and money on health care reform and bailing out Wall Street.

Words can't describe how totally angry I am at the Senate for getting its priorities completely screwed up.
 
A couple of questions. The only place I see in the linked article that mentions filibuster is at the very end. "In broader terms, the big task for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is to get 60 votes in the Senate in order to block a Republican filibuster. But Reid could also implement a legislative option known as reconciliation, which would only require 51 senators."
Where are you getting that it means the Rockefeller/Schumer amendments? And is the 'reconciliation' option different/same as your 'motion' option?
 
Would the Democrats do that?
It would be one less excuse for their maintaining the canard of republicans blocking progressive legislation.
 
Citizen K: I was not referring to reconciliation. What that means is something different. Budget bills are exempt from filibuster. Since health care reform would affect the budget deficit, Reid is prepared to argue that the health bill is really a budget bill.

That has happened before.

My point was that -- in my reading of the rules -- the filibuster process gives the Democrats in the senate a way to rewrite the rules so as to do away with filibusters altogether.

I'm not sure Reid wants to do that. After all, one day (sooner than we think) the Dems will be the minority party again.
 
The public option has failed--for now!
 
Wasn't this referred to as the nuclear option during the Bush admin when republicans threatened to do this to stack the supreme court and then the gang of 6 created a deal to vote on appointed candidates that satisfied everyone and prevented the change?

It seems to me to be a bad idea because the Senate is supposed to be able to slow debate down. I don't think the problem is the rule it is that the democrats refuses to fight as aggressively as the republicans using the present options.
 
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