Jim Bunning (KY) throws a pitch for reforming Senate procedures

Paul Gronke

A minor firestorm is burning around Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.  A few days ago, Democratic Senators called Bunning out in a committee hearing for his filibuster on unemployment benefits. It was a clear breach of Senate protocol, and it's no surprise (particularly given Bunning's well-known short fuse) that he lost his temper.

Now it comes out that the unemployment bill includes a provision to increase Medicare payments for doctors, one of the (many) provisions that were going to be included in the health care reform bill in order to stave off opposition.  Bunning's filibuster will result in an almost immediate 21% cut in these payments, TPM reports.

Today, reporters are claiming that Bunning flipped them off while attempting to take the Senators-only elevator to a floor session (reporters were being pretty rude by constantly stopping the elevator from closing after Bunning told them "no comment.)

All may be fair in love, war, and politics, but there is an important underlying motivation to all of this.  Let's face it, Jim Bunning is an easy target.  Republicans have been trying to push this guy out of the spotlight for a few years, and he finally announced his retirement a few months ago.  He is a serious liability and few GOP members are going to defend him.

As such, he is the perfect target to educate the public about current problems with Senate procedures, specifically overuse of the "hold" and the lazy man's filibuster.  With Bunning as their poster child, is this the moment when Senate Democrats finally start to move forward on reforming Senate procedures, and, just maybe, start moving Congress forward again?

Comments

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    When Democrats were a rump in 2006, none of the minority's remaining procedural weapons were a problem on the left. Now they are. Curious to say the least.

  • Joshua Welch (unverified)
    (Show?)

    i think senator bunning's sentiments (screw those in need) are shared by most conservative senators, the difference is bunning isn't seeking reelection.

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Perhaps Bunning is merely against the printing of ever more worthless Obamabucks?

  • (Show?)

    Boats

    Normally I would agree with you about the hypocrisy on both sides, but GOP use of the filibuster this session has been historic. They are filibustering EVERY nomination and EVERY piece of legislation.

    Not even the Democrats at their worst behaved anything like this.

    The Senate is broken. They need to look hard at changing these procedures so that holds are public, not private, and filibusters require Senators to stand up publicly and do the work, not just file a piece of paper.

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Of course you're expecting the Republicans to surrender the abuse of tactics they learned from the Democrats?

    I agree with ending these practices, but only when the Democrats are reduced once again to where they were when they first embraced these nihilistic tactics.

  • Jonathan Radmacher (unverified)
    (Show?)

    It's very possible that I just don't remember it, but was there really a track record from 2000-2008 of Democratic senators using holds this liberally?

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The genesis of the current mess in the Senate has its genesis in 2005, when Democratic senators first decided that elections don't have consequences and blocked Bush's judicial nominees while in the minority, which was unprecedented.

    Prepare to hear bleating about Clinton appointees not being given hearings by Republican Senators. The large difference remains that the Republicans held the Senate and even in 2005, didn't nuke the minority when they had the chance, despite Democratic senators twisting the filibuster to ends never envisioned by its most ardent supporters in the past.

    I can only guess that what is true today is what has always been true--Democrats are shamelessly anti-majoritarian when they are the minority and shamelessly authoritarian when in the majority. I guess I am being wordy. Democrats are simply shameless.

  • (Show?)

    For reality-based readers (not you, "Boats"), this is from an AP piece today, Republicans Setting Filibuster Record:

    In the 110th Congress of 2007-2008, with Republicans in the minority, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the current session of Congress -- the 111th -- for all of 2009 and the first two months of 2010 the number already exceeds 40. The most the filibuster has been used when Democrats were in the minority was 58 times in the 106th Congress of 1999-2000.
  • DeanOR (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Jeff Merkley is heading to the floor right now to demand immediate action to pass an extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits. As he should. Thanks Jeff.

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I see. "Reality based" must mean, "Ignore who started all of this and why, just rail against the frequency."

    You reap what you sow. Sauce for the goose, blah blah blah. You guys are such whiners.

  • (Show?)

    So the argument is: "you started it"? Seriously?

    If that's really the argument for not slamming this passed Bunning--then there's no reason not to do it.

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    There's no argument. It's a calling out.

  • (Show?)

    Jim Bunning (KY) is an example of extreme politics, almost mindless. Bunning's cynicism apparently trumps understanding the sacrifices and struggles people have had since Bush laid the recession on to our new president 14 months ago.

    Meanwhile the Oregon Business Alliance blames Oregon's 11% unemployment on Democrats. Republicans caused the economic tsunami, including Bunning. The disconnect is astounding.

    Most of us are darned tired of the close-minedness of the US Senate Republicans as demonstrated by the health care meeting last week.

    The precinct data revealed today by Mapes relating to M66/67 showed that Independents in Oregon swung the YES vote to the winning side. Meanwhile the Republican party shrinks in Oregon, the tea partiers marginalize the party and Bunnings is their poster boy all over the mainstream media.

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I'm all for scorched earth tactics if it stops the obamanation in its tracks. It doesn't matter what happens to the Republican Party of Oregon. It was already ineffectual.

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Jeff Merkley is heading to the floor right now to demand immediate action to pass an extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits. As he should. Thanks Jeff.

    Why would the puppeteer thank the marionette?

  • (Show?)

    Honestly, I wish the Republicans had used the "nuclear option" back in 2005 to ram through a few wingers on to the federal bench. Then, we would simply be at a point where those in the majority today could approve what they wanted with 51 votes. I would take the tradeoff.

    Paul,

    How do you expect the Senate to now move forward on reforming the rules of the Senate, such as the rule for the vote threshold required for closing debate? It takes 67 votes to change the rules of the Senate. I'm not sure how we as a country are going to be able to change those rules until one side gains 67 seats or one side unilaterally disarms.

    I believe holds are a different matter, though - I think those are a matter of custom and practice, and not the actual rules - but I could be wrong about that.

  • (Show?)

    Paul, I agree with you that the GOP is currently using the filibuster in an unprecedented manner. To cite another TPM piece, this history is most useful.

    When Republicans were a Senate minority in 1991-1992, there were 59 cloture filings. When President Clinton took office, with Republicans remaining the minority in the Senate, that number shot up to 80 in 1993-1994. When Democrats reclaimed the Senate majority in the 2006 midterm elections, cloture filings shot up from 68 in 2005-2006 to a record 139 in 2007-2008.

    That said, Boats is not completely out to sea. The problem also lies squarely with the Democrats. Neither party has the cojones to change the rules because they don't want to relinquish their right to filibuster when they inevitably find themselves in the minority. Chris Dodd calls Senator Tom Harkin's (eminently reasonable) plan to change the filibuster rule "foolish."

    I would love to see our two Democratic Senators take the lead on this and join Harkin's plan--or suggest an alternative. Much as the filibuster has been abused by the GOP, the real problem lies with the Dems.

  • pacnwjay (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Don't forget good ol' Senator Shelby and his "blanket hold."

    What it always seems to come down to in the US Senate: Dems bring sporks to a gun fight. They have plenty of tools at their disposal to beat back some of these shenanigans... they simply refuse to use them! Bunning, Shelby, et al could be brought to heel if Reid would get mean.

    Best scenario: Reid loses in November and a Dem with fortitude takes the wheel for awhile.

  • Ron Morgan (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "You reap what you sow. Sauce for the goose, blah blah blah. You guys are such whiners."

    Yeah, well it's often the case in sports that the first one throwing a punch doesn't get flagged, but the last guy flailing gets tossed. Maybe "he started it" cut it with your mom, but it sounds kinda whiney when you're a big boy.

  • (Show?)

    Jeff, thanks for the correction on "boats." I don't think this is a partisan issue, but the historical facts of the matter is that the use of the delaying tactics as a routinized part of the minority party operations began with the GOP in the 1980s.

    NRJE I am not sure you are right. The filibuster is described in rule XXII of the Senate. These rules are passed by a majority rule at the beginning of the session. I would have to do a bit more homework to answer this, but I am not sure that changes to these rules fall under the normal rules of Senate procedures. These ARE the rules of Senate procedure.

    But more to the point, the current interpretation of the rules--that a Senator need not physically occupy the well of the Senate during extended debate and only need signal a desire / willingness to do so, is a change that was made about a decade and a half ago (if memory serves). That is a norm and could easily be changed.

    The "hold" is a purely informal norm and is not codified.

  • Boats (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The "air quotes" belong around the word correction, not my handle.

  • Ghost of Senates Past (unverified)
    (Show?)

    NRJE I am not sure you are right. The filibuster is described in rule XXII of the Senate. These rules are passed by a majority rule at the beginning of the session. I would have to do a bit more homework to answer this, but I am not sure that changes to these rules fall under the normal rules of Senate procedures. These ARE the rules of Senate procedure.

    My understanding is that it should take 67 votes to change the rules of the Senate, at this point (whereas at the beginning of the session, a simple majority is all that is necessary). Except that there's always the possibility of the so-called "nuclear option." That is, the President of the Senate (Joe Biden) could declare such a rule unconstitutional. As long as the President of the Senate's ruling is upheld by a simple majority, the rules would change.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Paul Gronke:

    Now it comes out that the unemployment bill includes a provision to increase Medicare payments for doctors, one of the (many) provisions that were going to be included in the health care reform bill in order to stave off opposition. Bunning's filibuster will result in an almost immediate 21% cut in these payments, TPM reports.

    Bob T:

    Then the Democrats should place the Medicare payment increase provision on its own and have a vote on that, and that only.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • (Show?)

    Senator Merkley's comment is interesting. Why did Democratic leadership blink at forcing every Republican "standing at the ready" to go and explain to the American people and their constituents why they are for cutting off unemployment benefits for 400,000 Americans and why they are for making it more difficult for senior citizens to obtain needed medical care?

    I find Bunning's position both hypocritical and offensive. He has been a party to running up the deficit for the last 10 years and now when it comes to providing unemployment insurance to citizens who have been put out of work, in part by failed policies that Bunning has supported, he suddenly as decided to become a deficit hawk?

    If Bunning wants $10 billion in cuts, then Democratic leadership should oblige him by starting with every earmark that benefits his constituents and the constituents of any Senator who joins Bunning in this hold.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Sal Peralst:

    If Bunning wants $10 billion in cuts, then Democratic leadership should oblige him by starting with every earmark that benefits his constituents and the constituents of any Senator who joins Bunning in this hold.

    Bob T:

    So, if you don't want to cut then you can get some earmarks?

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • (Show?)

    Bob - Earmarks are part of the process. Bunning uses them the same as any other Senator. If, after 10 years of turning a blind eye to the federal deficit (especially when the R's were in power) he wants to be a deficit hawk then he should be forced to lead by example, starting with his pet projects.

    I see that as far preferable to punishing 400,000 people who are out of work because of disastrous federal oversight of the banking and insurance industries -- all policies to which Bunning gave his full-throated support.

  • Tracey (unverified)
    (Show?)

    All of you people are missing the point and believing the liberal media hype. Bunning is not against these benefits, he just wants them paid for. Obama signed the Paygo legislation in February. This is the first piece of legislation to come before the Senate since paygo passed and the entire Senate wants to exempt this bill and worrying about paying for it later. That's ridiculious. Does paygo mean anything to anyone in Washington? The Dems could solve this problem by simply agreeing to use the unspent stimulus money to pay for this bill, but they'd rather hammer on Bunning for taking a strong position.

  • Lee Tilson (unverified)
    (Show?)

    While the Constitution allows the Senate to make its own rules (Article1, Sections 3 and 5), nothing in the Constitution allows one Senator to paralyze the government. http://tinyurl.com/one-senator-is-not-a-majority Where was this demand during the trillion dollar Bush tax cuts?

    The Senate rules exist to serve our needs. These rules are not working. Change them.

    Lee Tilson www.rethinkingpatientsafety.com

  • (Show?)

    Ghost of Senates, no bill REQUIRES 60 votes (that is the number required for cloture now, not 67), they require a simple majority. It requires 60 senators willing to take that final, majority vote.

    And as I said, Rule XXII is one thing, interpreting it is another.

  • Tim McCafferty (unverified)
    (Show?)
    <h2>Bunning just relented after his amendment was called for being in violation of the Federal Budget Act., clouture is being called now.</h2>

connect with blueoregon