In yesterday's column, I raised a point about the U.S. Senate that was curious to me. It is not often that you get a revelation while writing a column, as opposed to having the revelation and putting the column together thereafter.
In this case, I became convinced as I was writing, that the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), wanted exactly nothing.
President Trump has at least three times written/tweeted certain words, and no doubt has spoken the words on numerous occasions. The "words", of course, are in regard to cloture, an obscure term for the parliamentary vote to cut off debate and allow a bill to be voted on. The Senate -- not the House -- has an arcane rule requiring a three-fifths majority to stop debating, and without 60 votes, they can go on and talk all day without a vote. The president would like to get the Senate to change their self-imposed rules to require only a majority to call the question.
Nine times out of ten, the absence of sufficient votes to shut off debate is known, a priori, to the majority leader, in which case he simply does not even start debate by bringing up a bill for discussion. The House can pass hundreds of bills -- in 2015, they had passed 356 bills just by April 1st, none of which was ever to be voted on by the Senate -- but if the Senate doesn't even take them up, they die in committee.
When there is a possibility of getting three-fifths, the opposition will often take the tack of the "filibuster", simply going on and talking for like, you know, ever, about anything they feel like. Eventually the senators yawn, get even more bored, and retract the bill -- or, if the majority leader thinks he can get the votes, he calls a vote on cloture. Sixty votes for cloture later, they vote on the bill, even though the bill itself only requires a simple majority.
Sen. McConnell has steadfastly refused to change the cloture-vote rule, even though he did just that to require only a simple majority to approve a Supreme Court justice. And I had wondered what his reluctance was.
You see, we have simply not thought about it much, and gotten the "conventional wisdom" notion that McConnell wouldn't change the rules just so that a subsequent Democrat-majority Senate wouldn't be able to ram through crap like Obamacare. Surely, the notion goes, the fact that it took a parliamentary maneuver to get Obamacare passed was a good thing.
Well, with me, however, for all the beating that the Republicans in Congress have been getting for not moving forward with President Trump's agenda, and giving the Democrats a gift-wrapped FY 2018 spending bill, that conventional wisdom didn't ring true. At least, I didn't quite get the idea.
No, I thought, there has to be something in it for McConnell, or he would be thrilled to have the legacy of actually passing a conservative agenda. Why wasn't he?
It finally occurred to me that he might be a conservative, all right, but the status quo was simply better for him. He gets to work in the majority leader's office, and control the agenda of the Senate. He never has to take the fall for any legislation that may be controversial, because they never vote on anything.
Mitch McConnell could wake up tomorrow morning, call up Speaker Ryan and say that he's ready to pass the immigration reform the president wants, and to do it he was going to allow a floor vote and force the issue, and oh, by the way, he was going to change the Senate rules to require a simple majority to cut off debate.
Or he could scrap the cloture notion entirely, and simply push through a rule limiting debate on a given bill to X number of hours, depending on the type of bill, and after X hours the vote is called. That vote already is a simple majority, so there you have it, viola, we have governing. OK, I know it's "voila!". Just not happy with the French these days.
That McConnell does not do that is, to me, prima facie evidence that he simply does not want to pass legislation -- in other words, he does not want to do his job.
I'm pretty disgusted with it.
Come November we'll be voting for senators -- OK, I won't; my state doesn't have any senators on the ballot this year -- and I don't know what to think. All that we felt in 2014, when we voted the Democrats out of the Senate majority, was lost when they stopped doing anything. All that we felt in 2016, when we finally got a Republican president pledging to act, and then following through with an agenda, well, that feeling has gone down the toilet with McConnell and the Senate doing zip-squat.
I'm not just going to vote because a candidate is a conservative. I'm going to start looking in primaries -- and I encourage you to do the same -- for candidates willing to change the nature of the Senate by getting Mitch McConnell out of that office and putting in a majority leader willing to show some testicles and start working on legislation. Or ovaries, those are OK, too, as long as they're associated with getting something done.
Thanks for listening.
Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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