Is 60 really the Senate’s New 50? If so do you got a link?

by Bruce Webb

In a previous post Robert asks the penetrating question Kevin Drum Huh? only to conclude quickly that he Robert was wrong and Kevin was right. I don’t agree for reasons laid out in comments, I invite anyone to join the discussion. But in the course of that a commenter suggested the answer could be easily be found by reading several thousand pages of Senate and House procedures. While this seems kind of round-about to me as compared to just supplying the relevant cite, I decided to dive in and find some relevant cites myself. So those who would like to follow me into the Heart of Darkness (otherwise known as the Senate Floor), I have copied some interesting(?) selections below.

The following are from CRS, Congress’s official research service and can be regarded as authoritative. The Legislative Process on the Senate Floor: an Introduction

First lets take a look at the Committee system. Any bolding is mine.
pg. 6

Committee Referrel and Rule 14
The Senate’s standing committees play an essential part in the legislative process, as they select the small percentage of the bills introduced each Congress which, in their judgment, deserve the attention of the Senate as a whole, and as they recommend amendments to these bills based on their expert knowledge and experience. Most bills are routinely referred to the committee with appropriate jurisdiction as soon as they are introduced. However, if a Senator plans to introduce a bill and believes that the committee to which it would be referred will be unsympathetic, Rule XIV, paragraph 4, permits the Senator to bypass the standing committee system altogether and have the bill placed directly on the Calendar of Business, with exactly the same formal status the bill would have if it had been the subject of extensive hearings and exhaustive mark-up meetings in committee.
By the same token, if a committee fails to act on a bill that was referred to it, while this may mean the bill will die for lack of action, the proposal it embodies may not. The Senator sponsoring the bill may introduce a new bill with exactly the same provisions as the first, and have the second bill placed directly on the Calendar. In either event, the committee that has been circumvented may oppose bringing the bill from the Calendar to the floor by unanimous consent or by motion, but now the fate of the bill can be decided by the Senate as a whole, not only by one of its committees. Senators generally view this use of Rule XIV as a last resort, both because it undermines the committee system as a whole and because they do not wish to encourage a practice that can be used against their own committees. In recent practice, the Majority Leader sometimes also uses this method to put a measure directly on the Calendar—often to expedite consideration of a complicated or high-profile bill that has been drafted outside of the committee process.

So I see nothing that would prevent Reid or indeed any Senator from introducing a bill identical to a passed HR3200 and putting it on the Calender without it ever going to Committee, equally any Senator can effectively extract a bill from Committee by the same procedure. Now bringing bill to a vote is a motion subject to debate and so a filibuster, but it seems that under this Rule no single Committee or Senator can unilaterally bottle up any bill permanently.

Well if Baucus can’t keep the bill from actually getting on the calender rather than trying to kill the bill outright can’t he let it come to the floor and then kill it by a whole series of amendments each of which can be filibustered? Well it depends on how much hard ball Reid would be willing to play.

The House of Representatives may bring a question to a vote if a simple majority agrees to a motion to order the previous question. When meeting in Committee of the Whole, a majority of
Representatives also can move to close debate on a pending amendment or sometimes on a bill and all amendments to it. No such motions are possible in the Senate. As a result, a majority of Senators does not have nearly the same control over the pace and timing of their deliberations as does a majority of the House.
There is one partial exception to this generalization. The Senate often disposes of an amendment by agreeing to a motion to lay the amendment on the table. When a Senator who has been recognized makes this motion, it cannot be debated (except by unanimous consent, of course). If the Senate agrees to this motion to table, the amendment is rejected; to table is to kill. On the other hand, if the Senate defeats the motion, debate on the amendment may resume; the Senate only has determined that it is not prepared at that time to reject the amendment. Thus, a tabling motion can be used to stop debate even if there still are Senators wishing to speak, but only by defeating the amendment at issue. Although the effect of the motion is essentially negative, it frequently is a test vote on Senate support for an amendment. If the motion fails, the Senate may agree to the amendment shortly thereafter. But this is a reflection of political reality, not a requirement of Senate rules or precedents.

Reid or Rockefeller puts a duplicate of a passed HR3200 on the calender, Reid proposes bringing it to the floor, rather than kill the bill outright, Baucus enters a series of amendments. All Reid needs is 50 Senators to vote to table the amendment, and then again on the next amendment.

All I am seeing here is a failure of will on the part of Reid. He doesn’t have to cater to Baucus unless he chooses to.