Diary

Filibusternomics 101, like Freakenomics, but for the U.S. Senate

So what is up with the Senate rules, anyway? What does Senator Reid have to do to pass ObamaCare?

And why does he need to get 60 votes twice — even before he a) gets to consider any health care bill on the Senate floor, and b) before he can have a vote on final passage.

And what about the whole reading of the bill, that Senator Coburn is threatening?

Filbusternomics 101 (to all you typo and grammar police — I made up the word):

The first rule of the U.S. Senate is that the institution runs on the rule of unanimous consent. The U.S. Senate can operate under any type of rules or any procedures, provided there is unanimous consent.

Second, the most powerful words on the floor of the U.S. Senate are “Mr. President, I object.”

Objecting to any unanimous consent agreement immediately forces the U.S. Senate to operate under its rules, which can be changed only by a two-thirds of the body voting in the affirmative vote.

The next biggest step up the escalation ladder is the filibuster — which the Republicans are going to do to ObamaCare.

A filibuster is when a Senator speaks at length. He or she monopolizes the Senate floor. Senators who are filibustering have been known to read the phone books. A Senator could read anything, a 2,078 page bill, for example.

There will be a filibuster of the motion to proceed. The motion to proceed is a debatable motion to determine if the U.S. Senate wants to debate the bill that the motion is allowing the Senate to proceed to consider, in this case, it may be either the House passed ObamaCare bill, or another House passed tax bill that the Senate will proceed to consider — then strike and insert the merged ObamaCare bill.

In order for the Senate to even consider the House passed ObamaCare bill or another House passed tax bill that they want to use as a shell for the merged Senate bill — Senator Reid needs 60 votes to stop the filibuster of the motion to proceed.

If Senator Reid loses one Democratic or Independent Senator, the motion to proceed fails, and Senator Reid goes back to the back rooms to try again. Likely with Exhibit A (the failed vote) for the hard-core leftists and liberals about why they need to make compromises or they will get nothing. (In general, all the Democrats up this year would probably be very pleased to see the cloture vote on the motion to proceed fail, since they would avoid many tough, walk-the-plank-type votes. Should one Democratic Senator vote against cloture on the motion to proceed, then likely others will too, since Senator Reid will lose the vote, regardless of whether any other Senator votes yes, so, its a free no vote.)

If every Democratic and Independent Senator votes for cloture on the motion to proceed, then the Senate will begin consideration of the ObamaCare legislation, and the debate could last two or three or four weeks.

The next 60 vote event is the cloture motion on the filibuster of the bill itself. Think of this as a filibuster which prevents a final vote on the bill, without first a 60 vote margin to clear. To repeat, there can be no final vote on the bill until another cloture vote occurs, which again takes 60 votes. Should cloture on the bill fail (Senator Reid does not get 60 votes) then the bill fails, and Senator Reid could try again, but usually, that is not the case. And in this case, having another vote will be very unpopular with the U.S. Senators (you mean I have to walk the plank, again?)

The conventional wisdom is that if there is a public option, then Senator Lieberman will vote against cloture on the bill (not on the motion to proceed) and the bill will fail. This is how you get to four weeks on the Senate floor, with the Democratic Leadership attempting to manage changes to the bill by unanimous consent or through votes on amendments. On the other hand, there are key things in the bill or which may be added to the bill which do or could create huge divisions among the Democrats — the public option, tax increases, Medicare cuts, second amendment rights amendments (guns), immigration and abortion, for starters.

So the entire bill, should the Senate actually begin to consider it, will look and feel like a rugby scrum, often violent, sometimes bloody and very chaotic. But for rugby players, oh, so much fun!

Now, there has been much ado about the threat by Senator Coburn to force the reading of the bill, which he says he will do. This is a classic delay tactic that any Senator can use, and can not be stopped.