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Delusion in DC
February 26, 2010
I try to read as many lefty blogs as I can, not just to get intelligence about what the "other" side is doing, but to test my own assumptions. One of the blogs I read is FireDogLake, a popular site started by Jane Hamsher. I've actually met Jane and she's very intelligent and reasonable, though we obviously disagree on many issues. Another FDL blogger named Jon Walker, though, seems to have thrown the "reasonable" part right out the window with his latest post where he advocates employing the "nuclear option" in order to pass health care legislation through the Senate.
He starts by bemoaning the practice of circumventing the rule that all revenue bills originate in the House of Representatives. On this point, he is absolutely right. Leaders from both parties have routinely ignored the rule by using a loophole allowing the Senate to take up an unrelated piece of House legislation, only to strike all language after the enacting clause and replace it with the bill of the day (in this case, health care).
He then goes on to advocate that Senate Leadership use the "nuclear option" by changing Senate rules to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for the filibuster. I have some initial thoughts, but I don't think I'm well-versed enough in all of the implications to really mount a spirited defense or attack of the merits of the 60-vote threshold here. It might be good, it might be bad, but that's not the point I'm making in this post. I'm saying that Mr. Walker appears to be overlooking just how revolutionary a move this would be. After all, there's a reason that it has been named the "nuclear option."
To put it succinctly, tradition matters a great deal in the United States Senate. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but it matters a lot. In discussions with a Senate staffer recently over a package of amendments that were going to be voted on, I asked why they wouldn't just object to their consideration in the first place and force a vote. The reason: tradition. The Majority and Minority Leaders had agreed upon a votes on a certain number of amendments, some of which had topics that were unspecified. When the Majority filed an amendment the Minority didn't like, they could theoretically have blown up the prior agreement by objecting to unanimous consent and forcing a vote, but they refrained because of the powerful role of Senate tradition. After all, if they torpedoed that agreement, it could theoretically lead to a bare-knuckles parliamentary brawl in the future that would make the health care debate look tame by comparison.
So, it's not just as simple as saying, "use your powers to push health care legislation through and be done with it." Tradition is still important, and especially so when there is an outside chance that the parties could be switching Majority-Minority status after November.
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