Monday, May 10, 2010

236 Days

In the coming days, Congress will finally pass the long-debated financial services reform bill, S3217. The Republican leadership in Congress is warning Democrats about the peril of moving "too quickly" on the legislation, and are toying with the notion of further delaying action on the bill. In April, the Republicans insisted on holding cloture votes over the question of even bringing the bill up for debate--and they defeated cloture. Twice. Eventually, the Republicans folded and allowed the Senate to debate the consideration of the bill.

Republicans are now threatening to delay the bill further, possibly requiring the Democrats to file for cloture on many of the proposed amendments.

In the House, bills are sometimes brought to the floor under an "Open Rule". This allows any germane amendment to be brought up for a vote. With a quorum present, amendments can be easily knocked out via voice-vote or with quick, 15 minute votes by electronic device.

Because of the cloture rules, however, the Senate can't do this. The Majority Leader (often in conjunction with the Minority Leader) calls the shots and can only allow a fraction of the proposed amendments to have their time on the floor. Normally, when an amendment is brought up, a unanimous consent agreement waves the normal rules and establishes new rules for a short debate and a vote. If there is an objection to this agreement, however, cloture must be invoked for the amendment to be debated. This involves a three-day wait before the cloture vote, and then a 30 hour debate after cloture is agreed upon.

This would be for each individual amendment.

There are currently 189 proposed amendments to the Financial Reform bill.

If each were brought to the floor, and only one Senator objected to each of them, it would take 236 days for the Senate to get through them all.

This is why the Senate can't have nice things. This is why it's said that each Senator carries with them a nuclear bomb.

Ironically enough, the evil, majoritarian House of Representatives can actually have a greater number of amendments considered and therefore have a more inclusive debate over the legislation than the infamously deliberative Senate. Because of the asinine cloture rules, the Senate can only address a handful of amendments on a given bill, while the House can easily address dozens.

It's no wonder that people are clamoring for Senate reform. While thousands of bills are proposed every legislative session, only a small fraction of them can ever be brought to the Senate floor. Time on the floor is the most valuable commodity available, but it can be wasted for days at a time due to objections by one Senator.

This is the same reason why the Democrats can't bring up the dozens and dozens of unconfirmed nominations to various executive branch positions. The Democrats have the votes to confirm the Deputy Undersecretary for Multifamily Housing, but as long as one Senator threatens to require cloture, it would take over a day to get through each nominee. It would take over three months to get through all the delayed nominees.

Something has to give. Either the rules for cloture must be reformed (say, limiting it to only the final passage of legislation, not amendments and executive business) or the filibuster--and thus cloture--must be eliminated.

We need a new, streamlined Senate to handle the 21st Century needs of the country. With a bigger nation--and a bigger government--the Senate needs to have the tools necessary to deal with the issues of the day. That fact is not open for debate.


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