Friday, November 20, 2009

Filibuster tactics

I was rather interested to read the latest tactical maneuvering on the health care bill.

It is now clear that the initial GOP threat to force a reading of the whole bill has been neutralized. The best possible outcome for the Democrats at this point would be for Coburn to go through with his threat. The Democrats would then bring in a team of speedreaders to complete the reading over the thanksgiving recess while Coburn and some Democrat presiding miss their dinner, thus providing a highly visible proof of GOP obstruction.

But the more interesting feature is a consequence of the possibility of multiple filibuster threats. In theory any Senate motion is subject to filibuster. But in practice use of the filibuster tends to be limited to final passage rather than the intermediate stages. There is a reason for that, it is really bad tactics for the minority to attempt to filibuster early in the process.

As we saw earlier with discussion of the 'nuclear option', there are ways and means to get round Senate rules. A cloture motion sets out a time limit for debate on a motion. But there is no reason that the Democrats could not introduce a motion to change the rules of the Senate to introduce a time limit for debate on all future procedural motions for a bill. Such a motion would be subject to filibuster, but that is a one time event and a filibuster is not without benefit for those participating in breaking it. Whatever hardship the majority endures will be highly visible via local TV news and newspapers. Most would much rather spend a week sleeping in my office than on the campaign trail.

Under such circumstances the dynamics of the health care debate become very different. All the concessions that the majority made to the minority earlier are lost and then some.

And once there is one bill on the floor that is filibuster proof, it can be used as a vehicle for any purpose that garners a 50 Senate votes.

No comments: