Just to make sure that Congressional Democrats don’t possibly get their act together, Senate Republicans have vowed to obstruct even more than they have been doing so far:
The GOP Senate leadership has privately settled on a strategy to derail health reform if Dems try to pass the Senate bill with a fix through reconciliation, aides say: Unleash an endless stream of amendments designed to stall for time and to force Dems to take untenable votes.
The aide described the planned GOP strategy as a “free for all of amendments,” vowing Dems would face “a mountain of amendments so politically toxic they’ll make the first health debate look like a post office naming.”
Can they do this? Well, yes, unless the Democrats grow a pair and bring in the Vice President to rule out these potential amendments as non-germane and dilatory. Is that hardball? Yes. Is it anything more extreme than what the Republicans are proposing? Do I have to answer that?
Now, I realize that reconciliation doves like Ezra Klein and Mark Schmitt will come up with yet another series of reasons why the Democrats just have to capitulate again, but there is simply no basis for this. And I have that on good authority. Here’s an interview with former Senate parliamentarian Robert Dove:
Lester Feder: The decision about what can stay in under the rules is solely up to the parliamentarian?
Robert Dove: Theoretically, no—Vice President Biden is the ultimate decider. But no vice president has tried to play that role in reconciliation. We haven’t had vice presidents that have tried to play important procedural roles for a very long time. The last one was Nelson Rockefeller, in 1975, and before him Hubert Humphrey, in the 1960’s. But no vice president has ever tried to play a role in reconciliation. Basically, since Walter Mondale was vice president, they have kind of been co-opted by the president and given an office down in the West Wing. Their interest in playing Senate politics has become attenuated. That has left the Senate parliamentarian in an extremely powerful position.
Lester Feder: So as the rules of reconciliation are written, the Vice President is the technically the one who should make the procedural call, but he defers to the parliamentarian?
Robert Dove: He doesn’t usually even show up. If you expect to see the Vice President on the Senate floor, you’re going to be disappointed. He’s almost never there, so he’s usually not even there to do that.
If he were to show up, and he wants to make these decisions, yes. He has the authority to do that. He is the president of the Senate.
Emphasis mine. I have been arguing this for months now, and no one has yet to give me a good answer to it, so I will continue to say it: the Vice President, not the Parliamentarian, has the right to rule on what stays and what goes into a reconciliation bill. And if the Republicans decide to throw up millions of amendments, the President of the Senate has the right to say as a blanket matter that none are germane.
The goal of Congressional Republicans since 1994 has been nothing less than the destruction of the informal institutions of government — the shared understandings about some things that are “just not done.” You don’t use the subpoena power to harass your political opponents — but they did. You don’t use impeachment in order to bring down a President for trivialities — but they did. You don’t use the filibuster as a matter of course — but they did. You don’t change Senate blue slips rules not once, not twice, but three times in order to effect their preferences — but they did. You don’t use the Office of Legal Counsel to authorize illegal behavior and give your people a Get Out of Jail Free card — but they did. Now, it’s understood that you don’t bring up a million amendments to undermine reconciliation — but they will. The Democrats must respond or they simply do not deserve the support of Americans.
Barack Obama is from Chicago, as Republicans love to comment. In The Untouchables, Sean Connery tells Kevin Costner, “He sends one of your guys to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.”
It’s coming. It should.