"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Sen. Majority Leader’s Unprecedented Rule Change Lets Dems Dodge Tough Votes

October 7th, 2011 by mopns · No Comments

Last night, in an unprecedented move to help Democrats avoid voting on tough amendments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) changed the rules and precedents of the Senate with a simple majority vote.

The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has a good explanation of what happened: “The buildup to this point started on Tuesday, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to force a vote on President Obama’s jobs bill as well as other Republican priorities by offering them as amendments to the China currency bill. Reid blocked the move. . . . McConnell made what’s called a ‘motion to suspend the rules,’ to allow a vote on the amendments. Such motions are almost always defeated, because they require a two-thirds majority to pass. But they’re another way for the minority party to force uncomfortable votes. Even though the minority party doesn’t get a direct vote on the amendment, how somebody votes on the motion becomes a sort of proxy for such a vote. In this case, for instance, if Democrats had voted down a motion for a vote on Obama’s jobs bill, it would have put them in an awkward spot. Though it’s been the standing practice of the Senate to allow such motions by the minority, tonight Reid broke with precedent and ruled McConnell’s motion out of order, and was ultimately backed up by Democrats. So, the end result is that by a simple majority vote, Reid was able to effectively rewrite Senate rules making it even harder than it already is for the minority party to force votes on any amendments. Should Republicans retake the Senate next year, it’s something that could come back to haunt Democrats in a major way.”

Frustrated, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told senators assembled on the floor last night, “[T]he fundamental problem here is the majority never likes to take votes. That’s the core problem. . . . We’re sitting around here when we ought to be passing trade bills. The president’s asked us to vote on his jobs bill. I wanted to give him an opportunity to have his vote the other day. You guys [Democrats] didn’t want to vote on what the president was asking us to vote on–without any changes.”

The Hill adds, “The surprise move stunned Republicans, who did not expect Reid to bring heavy artillery to what had been a humdrum knife fight over amendments to China currency legislation. The Democratic leader had become fed up with Republican demands for votes on motions to suspend the rules after the Senate had voted to limit debate earlier in the day. McConnell had threatened such a motion to force a vote on the original version of President Obama’s jobs package, which many Democrats don’t like because it would limit tax deductions for families earning over $250,000. The jobs package would have been considered as an amendment. McConnell wanted to embarrass the president by demonstrating how few Democrats are willing to support his jobs plan as first drafted.”

Indeed, an amendment that contained President Obama’s stimulus bill, which the president used a rare news conference yesterday to berate Congress about a lack of action on, was among those that Democrats changed the rules to avoid voting on last night. Votes also dodged by Democrats included amendments to block burdensome EPA rules on businesses and farmers and right to work legislation.

Writing at Townhall.com, Guy Benson explains, “This all may seem rather insignificant and boring, but the precedent is anything but.  Harry Reid employed a ‘nuclear’ procedural tactic to strip the minority of a long-standing, modest tool to exert a modicum of influence over the legislative process.”

Leader McConnell blasted Reid and Democrats for the move, saying, “[I]f you look back at this bill, what we’ve had in effect is no amendments before cloture, no motions to suspend after cloture, no expression on the part of the minority at all. . . . [W]e are fundamentally turning the Senate into the House. No amendments before cloture. No motions to suspend after cloture. The minority’s out of business.”

McConnell warned Democrats, “This is a bad mistake. . . . This is a free-wheeling body, and everybody is better off when we operate that way. Everybody is. Whether you’re in the majority or the minority, because today’s minority may be tomorrow’s majority.”

Related:

Rasmussen Reports: Generic Congressional Ballot: Republicans 44%, Democrats 38%.

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