Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Hold" On a Second...

Last week (below) I vented on the ability of Republicans to control the agenda in the Senate through "filibustering without filibustering." Republicans are forcing legislation off the table before a vote because Reid knows he cannot guarantee cloture without 60 votes in his pocket. And he cannot overtun a Bush veto without the 2/3 majority of 67 votes.

Thus, things like the stem cell bill last week fade away without a vote because Bush promises to veto it, and Reid cut his losses early. I think this is bad politics and bad policy, but later in the week there was an even more egregious example...
Bill aims to solve racial killings

The House passed a bill Wednesday to establish a new division of federal prosecutors and FBI agents focused strictly on cracking unsolved murders from the civil rights era.

The bill, which is also moving swiftly through the Senate, would authorize $10 million a year over the next decade to create the unit in the Justice Department. It also would earmark $2 million per year in grants for state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate cases in which federal prosecution isn’t practical, and $1.5 million more to improve coordination among investigating agencies.

The bill, passed 422-2, is named in honor of Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old from Chicago who was beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman. His killers were never convicted.

[...] State and federal prosecutors have had a string of successes recently in reopening racially motivated slayings from the 1950s and 1960s, including the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing and the 1964 slayings of three civil rights volunteers in Mississippi.

Sounds like a goood idea to me, it sailed through the House, actually has Bush's endorsement ahead of time, and seemed poised to cruise through the, what happened?

One single Senator ground the whole thing to a halt. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) put a "hold" on the bill and threatened to block it permanently.

Wait a sec...everybody (seemingly) wants this thing, and one guy in the minority can stop the whole thing?

The first thing I thought, even before considering the actual merits of the legislation, was "can one guy really stop legislation (good or bad) with a procedural hold? And if that's true, why the fuck weren't the Democrats doing that the last six years?"

And, get this, you don't even need to put your name on a hold! In May, bipartisan legislation expanding the Freedom of Information Act was cruising along in he Senate until "the vote was blocked by 'Senator Anonymous.' Some Republican senator called the Minority Leader’s office and objected to a vote on the bill, but asked for anonymity and did not publicly state the reason for the hold." [link

As I read these stories I was flabbergasted. I heard about "holds" and "unanimous consent" and other esoteric Senate procedural terms, but I didn't realize exactly how this could work. So I looked it up. From the Senate website's glossary [emphasis mine]:
hold - An informal practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The Majority Leader need not follow the Senator’s wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure.

This again? Fucking outrageous bullshit! Make Coburn stand up there by himself and filibuster the goddamn thing. That he is holding the Senate and this legislation hostage with what amounts to a thinly-veiled bluff is pathetic. Now it's possible that the support from the GOP side of the aisle is posturing because Coburn has agreed to wear this one by himself, but I don't fucking care if he votes are there or not. MAKE THEM (OR HIM) STAND UP AND TAKE THE HEAT AND ACTUALLY FILIBUSTER!

The fact that this is worthy legislation, just like the stem cell funding and the OPEN Govenment Act (the FOIA bill defeated by a mystery Senator) is almost beside the point to me now. Why the hell is Reid running things this way? They should have brought that FOIA bill to the floor just to find out who put the hold on it.

The more I learn about how things work (or don’t work) in the Senate the less enamored I am with our caucus and its leadership.

UPDATE: They're at it again this week. The "Ethics and Lobbying Reform Bill" and the "9/11 Commission Recommendations." More at Kos here and here. Why the hell doesn't Harry Reid want to make the Republicans stand up and filibuster Ethics Reform and 9/11-related security measures?


S.W. Anderson said...

"Why the hell doesn't Harry Reid want to make the Republicans stand up and filibuster Ethics Reform and 9/11-related security measures?"

The business of holds is the pits, all right. So is filibustering. Unless maybe these things become useful to Democrats trying halt some neocon nonsense.

Again, your make-them-go-for-it approach appeals.

In trying to figure out why Reid is so reluctant to do that, I came up with only one thing. If Reid obliges Republicans to filibuster, they get to stand in front of C-SPAN cameras and bash Democrats and what they're trying to do for days on end. They get to engage in hours and hours of spinning, demagoging and grandstanding, providing all kinds of ammunition for the right-wing noise machine.

The question I have about Reid right now is a little different. I'd like to know why he reintroduced that terrible immigration bill when he knew he didn't have enough votes and when he had good reason to believe Bush couldn't deliver enough Republican votes, either.

Maybe Reid was hoping the outcome would highlight Bush's political impotence, which it did. So far, though, the GOP-friendly corporate media haven't exactly belabored that point.

Mike said...

The Dems are really failing us, but deep down I'm not surprised.

And although I agree with you about holds and this jackass from Oklahoma, I think this bill sounds pretty wasteful. $10M to solve 40 year-old crimes? Don't we have more pressing concerns?