Monday, June 04, 2012

The fault lies not in the Senate but in Harry Reid's leadership

You may have seen charts that the number of cloture votes has skyrocketed since the Republicans fell to the minority in the Senate. This is usually taken as evidence of Republican obstructionism and an argument for ending the filibuster. What is not understood is that the real reason the majority has filed so many cloture motions is because Harry Reid has been using the rules to bypass normal committee procedures to examine bills and to avoid any amendments proposed for bills because he wants to protect Democratic senators from having to vote on tough amendments.
So Republicans are to blame for all those cloture petitions to end filibusters, right? Wrong. The fact that the majority has filed so many cloture petitions is as much a symptom of its own efforts to block the Senate from working its will as anything the minority has done. Consider this example.

On March 19, Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) introduced legislation (S. 2204) to promote renewable energy with the cost offset by a tax hike on large oil producers. The normal process would have been for this legislation to be referred to committee for action.

Majority Leader Harry Reid bypassed the committee process, however, and using something called Rule 14 had the bill placed directly on the Senate calendar. Two days later, he started the process to call up the bill by moving to "proceed to it" and immediately filed a cloture petition to end debate on that motion.

The following Monday, the Senate then voted 92-4 to curtail debate on the motion to proceed to the bill. The next day, as soon as the bill was before the Senate, Mr. Reid offered five consecutive amendments and one motion in order to effectively block the consideration of any competing amendments or motions.

He then filed a cloture motion to close out debate on the bill. Two days later, the Senate rejected cloture on a party-line vote and moved on to other business, leaving the Menendez bill adrift.

Now go back to the Politico story and ask yourself how exactly Republicans filibustered this bill? They didn't have time to filibuster anything, it was over so quickly. Moreover, their ability to take meaningful action was effectively nullified by four specific parliamentary maneuvers taken by Mr. Reid.

Why does the majority go to all this trouble? The simple answer is to protect its members from tough votes.

The Senate is a wide open forum where almost any issue can be raised and voted on at almost any time. This environment is a function of the Senate's tradition of unlimited debate, but it does leave members vulnerable to having to vote on difficult issues at inconvenient times, like when they are up for re-election.

In response, Majority Leader Reid has adopted the practice of blocking amendments from being offered. No amendments, no surprises, and no tough votes.
And continuing his efforts to make sure that his members don't have to make tough votes, note that Reid still hasn't allowed normal procedures to be followed on the budget and on any other number of bills that have been passed out of the House and sent over to the Senate. The Senate is truly the graveyard of proposed laws, but the fault lies not in the filibuster, but in how Harry Reid is trying to lead by not governing and blocking other attempts to do anything.