Gang of Six, Regular Order & the Johnson Treatment

LBJ and Senator Green of RI c.NYT
by Bruce Webb

Now that Grassley and Enzi have shown where the wind was actually blowing on the ‘bi-partisan’ ‘compromise’ supposedly being worked out by the Senate Finance Committee’s Gang of Six it is time to hit the reset button and in the process clear up some confusion.

Generally the Press has been reporting on the Gang of Six as if it simply represented Regular Order, that when a bill gets referred to Committee it just gets assigned to a sub-group with absolute control and that nothing can proceed until that group agrees. Well that simply is not true at all. Equally some people at dKos have been asking why Senate Finance is split between parties when all other Committees reflect the overall rough balance between the parties. Well Senate Finance is not evenly split, nor all the relevant Sub-Committees.

Senate Finance has 23 members, 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Senate Finance Committee Members It is further broken down into Sub-Committees of which the largest is the Sub-Committee on Health. which has 11 Democrats and 8 Republicans, meaning that you have almost total overlap. But three names that are missing are Baucus and Conrad on the Dem side and Grassley on the Rep side. Finance Sub-Committees Meaning that fully half of the Gang of Six are not even on the relevant Sub-Committee. Moreover the Chair of that Sub-Committee was excluded from the negotiations while the Ranking Member was originally included in what could have been called a Gang of Seven, one that had 3 Republicans from the Health Care Sub-Committee: Hatch, Snowe, and Enzi plus one not in Grassley for a total of 4 as against 1 Democrat from the Health Care Sub-Committee in Bingaman and two not in Baucus and Conrad for a total of 3.

The whole thing was a total perversion of Normal Order, which would either have had the full Committee mark up the bill or refer it to the Sub-Committee, instead Baucus simply insisted on doing an end-run in what was just a blatant power-grab. Moreover the first act of the Gang of Seven was to scrap the Kennedy-Dodd HELP Bill, which had drawn Nay votes from two members from the Gang already in the persons of Hatch and Enzi.

The Gang of Six has been treated as if they were a legitimate and normal part of how major legislation is done and that the Senate has no other choice than to just let the process run. This is just not true at all, the Gang has just as much cover and legitimacy as the Committee Chairman allows it to, and his authority is in turn is limited to how much scope Senate Leadership is willing to defer to it. Baucus claimed that the only way to get a deal that could pass the whole Senate was to rewrite the entire bill from the ground up with the help of Republican Senators who fought the Kennedy-Dodd bill to the end. They further have the gall to claim that Ted Kennedy would have wanted it this way. They stooped to putting words in his mouth before his body was even buried.

Time to give up the pretense here. Grassley in his letter and Enzi in his public statements made it clear that they saw their roles as blocking Health Care Reform. If Baucus doesn’t see that then he is being consciously blind. And given the way he simply by-passed the Health Care Sub-Committee to start with it is fair to conclude that he was willfully blind from the beginning. Under the Rules of the Senate a bill that has stalled in Committee can be in effect extracted from that Committee by any Senator invoking Rule 14 (link and explanation below the fold). The only thing that prevents that is some sense of courtesy and deference towards the Committee Chair, a deference that he has clearly abused throughout the process.

It is past time for Harry Reid to give Baucus the Johnson Treatment as depicted above. If he has it in him.

The Legislative Process on the Senate Floor; an Introduction

Committee Referral 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.