THE PLANK DECEMBER 3, 2009
Yesterday, Judd Gregg sent around a memo to his Republican colleagues detailing the procedural tactics they have at their disposal to hold up the health-care bill on the Senate floor. Sam Stein sums up some of the measures that Gregg describes as being at the foundation “the minority party’s rights” in the Senate:
He highlights the use of hard quorum calls for any motion to proceed, as opposed to a far quicker unanimous consent provision. He reminds his colleagues that, absent unanimous consent, they can force the Majority Leader to read any "full-text substitute amendment." And when it comes to offering amendments to the health care bill, the New Hampshire Republican argues that it is the personification of "full, complete, and informed debate," to "offer an unlimited number of amendments -- germane or non-germane -- on any subject."
In addition, Gregg describes the “Senate Points of Order” that Senators may raise when they believe that any procedure is being violated, or if a “Budget Points of Order” if they believe a measure violates the spending caps and requirement in the Budget Act passed earlier in the year.
According to the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, an expert on legislative procedure, Gregg’s memo was “a fairly standard recitation of how the rules can be employed by the minority” that have been employed by Democrats themselves. During the 2003 debate over Medicare Part D, for instance, Democrats raised multiple points of order on the bill, including a budget point of order by Tom Daschle. And Republican Senators like Demint and Coburn are already infamous for using the rules and unanimous consent provisions to delay legislation.
That being said, it’s extremely rare to have an entire party decide to employ the minority rules—other than the standard filibuster—to delay a piece of legislation. “I haven’t seen examples of a party effort involving most or all of their members, other than cloture,” Ornstein says, adding that it’s almost always small groups or individual legislators who try to delay legislation in this manner. But though he was “a little surprised” by the detailed missive Gregg had distributed to his colleagues, Ornstein says he wasn’t shocked by the move, given the Republicans’ unwavering commitment to stopping the bill.
Certainly, the opening days of the floor debate have revealed exactly how the Republicans can draw out the process: it took three days for the Senate to vote on the first amendment brought to the table, in part due to the GOP’s decision to offer up second-degree amendments and to require measures to be read out at length, among other tactics. By resorting to some of the more controversial tactics, Republicans could run the risk of looking willfully obstructionist to an extreme that might not play well with the public. “Some of this is a bit of bluster,” Ornstein says. “But if you’re determined as a minority to take whatever flak comes, whatever blowback comes, you’ll behave only with goal of bollixing up the works.”