Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person

Jim DeMint thinks it’s so critical that you know how important he is that he doesn’t mind if a few thousand folks in Africa die over it.

So now South Carolina Republican Senator James DeMint has decided to shut down the Senate over the next three months unless he and his staff have personally reviewed any and all legislation.  DeMint announced that he will put a hold on all bills, which essentially will mean taking a week to overcome his obstructionism: even if all other 99 Senators support a non-controversial bill, because the Senate runs on unanimous consent, DeMint will require a cloture vote to consider the bill, which means 30 hours of debate, and then another cloture vote to allow debate on the bill, which means another 30 hours of debate.  That’s what a “hold” is: it’s a threat to make yourself a royal pain in the rear unless you get what you want, and DeMint is very good at that.  And now, being just a pain means defeating the legislation, because there is not much time in a lame-duck session.

In other words, Jim DeMint has decided to remind everyone in the country that he is an Extremely Important Person, and thus play to the rabid GOP base.  What he doesn’t want you to know is that his little hissy fit will have real consequences to real people.

Senator James DeMint (R-Romper Room)

Consider a bill like S.384, the Casey-Lugar Global Food Security Act, a piece of legislation that is close to my heart: I just got back from DC to lobby for it on behalf of the American Jewish World Service, and found that Congress probably won’t be able to take up the bill in the lame duck session because Jim DeMint has decided to remind people that he is an Extremely Important Person.  And so the bill will die. (To assist in bringing it up again in January, please consider contributing to AJWS’ efforts here: that’s my fundraising page, and the money raised there goes to food security efforts.).

By way of background, a recent United Nations study reports that more than 925 million people worldwide suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition. 

925 million starving people?  Shouldn’t we do something about that?  You don’t understand: Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person.

Casey-Lugar would (among other things) create an emergency fund to purchase food in countries where starvation is at its worst: as Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman observe in their recent spectacular book, Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, in many countries suffering from hunger, farmers have food but can’t get it to starving populations, and in any event, current US law forbids purchasing food on site, delaying distribution by several months and impoverishing developing country farmers.  Most importantly, Casey-Lugar would begin to shift US aid policy away from just giving food to people toward making the poor self-sufficient by allowing for US assistance to develop agricultural capacity in the Global South.  For example, as Thurow and Kilman show, Ethiopia has made great strides in recent years toward food security by creating an agricultural futures market that stabilizes agricultural prices, allowing farmers to make a profit but keeping prices at more affordable levels.  Casey-Lugar would enable more experiments of this kind, and authorize (although not appropriate) $7 billion in funding for it and for the emergency fund.  A good short backgrounder can be found here.

An agricultural futures market like the Chicago Board of Trade?  That’s hardly socialist.  Who could be against that?  Well, you see, you don’t understand: Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person. Casey-Lugar is not an earth-shattering piece of legislation: at this point, it doesn’t seem even to be all that controversial.  It even has two Republican co-sponsors in the Senate (Lugar — of course — and Susan Collins). It passed the Foreign Relations Committee — which DeMint sits on — unanimously.

Well, maybe Jim DeMint will see all of this, and will deign to allow the Senate to take up the bill.  Or maybe not.  After all, Congres still has to take up all 12 appropriations bills, which of course the Republicans could also filibuster.  And who knows how many other good, small bills will die because Jim DeMint wants you to know that he is an Extremely Important Person.

DeMint claims he is a Christian: I have no idea, but I take him at his word. Conceivably, hundreds of thousands of people in the Global South could die because of the failure to pass this pretty non-controversial bill.  Theoretically, aren’t Christians supposed to be against that?  Well, maybe so, but these people aren’t nearly as Extremely Important as is Jim DeMint.

How about this, Senator?  Every time you come into a room, a band will play Hail To The Chief.  That seems to be really what is interesting to you.  The rest of us would like to act like adults.  In the meantime, if you want to try to make sure that DeMint has as little influence as possible in the next Congress, you can drop a few dollars here.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

13 thoughts on “Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person”

  1. "So now South Carolina Republican Senator James DeMint has decided to shut down the Senate over the next three months unless he and his staff have personally reviewed any and all legislation."

    And, why would this be a problem? Surely, (He said sarcastically.) the Senate leadership wouldn't demand that members vote on legislation they hadn't been permitted to read, at the end of session, heading into an election in which they might lose control of the legislature. Why, that would be abusive!

  2. Brett — Don't be obtuse. "Personally reviewed" in this case means, "hold hostage." Many pieces of legislation are non-controversial. In the case of Casey-Lugar, it's been around literally for months. Maybe DeMint should spend a little bit more time reading bills and a little less time getting involved in GOP primaries around the country, if that's what's really bothering him. But it's not. Clap louder!

  3. Perhaps if the Senate had not been dorking around dealing with filibusters on everything and everybody they would have time to do this sort of thing with less of a rush.

    But our Senate is in a negative feedback loop.

  4. This is ridiculous. Really, a horrible misreading. DeMint announced on Monday night that he'd block anything not approved by his office by the end of the day Tuesday. That block, to the extent there was one, is now no longer relevant, because it was intended to last only until the Senate adjourned, which it did today. Three months of course is a much longer period of time than the less than 48 hour period actually at issue, which period has now expired.

    Are there no consequences to demonstrating that one can't read, or can't read carefully? Or that one is comfortable making charges that are obviously false?

  5. "Wesley Denton, DeMint’s spokesman, said that the committee simply has asked for 48 hours to review the bills.

    “If you wait until Thursday night and then unveil some big spending bill, your bill is not going to pass,” Denton said, accusing Washington of “ramming through bills no one reads.” "

    Seems quite reasonable to me. Unless you're frustrated that something controversial wasn't brought up for a voice vote in the last five minutes of the session, to be voted on with nobody knowing what it was. Which wouldn't much surprise me…

  6. Hey, Brett, if DeMint is so responsible, why did he vote for the bill in committee? Surely you aren't suggesting that he was so irresponsible as to have voted for it without having actually read it, are you?

    Seems quite reasonable to me. Unless you’re frustrated that something controversial wasn’t brought up for a voice vote in the last five minutes of the session, to be voted on with nobody knowing what it was. Which wouldn’t much surprise me…

    On the other hand, it wouldn't surprise me if you realized that you were misrepresenting things since DeMint is holding up stuff that has been on the table for months. The press of things at the end of the session isn't because all of these things were just brought up. It's because the Republicans have been stalling for months. You don't get to claim that you are being rushed when you are the one that has been demanding 30 hours of debate for every cloture vote even when you've already made it clear how you will vote on the matter.

  7. So here is a question for DeMint, and Brett is welcome to take a guess.

    "You have been in Congress since 1998, serving six years in the House and the last six in the Senate. In those twelve years how much time have you spent reading bills?"

  8. "Hey, Brett, if DeMint is so responsible, why did he vote for the bill in committee? Surely you aren’t suggesting that he was so irresponsible as to have voted for it without having actually read it, are you?"

    Yup. That there's a good reason for doing as he is doing, does not imply that it's the actual reason he is, at the moment, doing it. Obviously, this isn't about principle, it's about keeping the Democrats from slipping some last minute provision into the law without debate, just before they lose control of Congress.

    But politics is all about getting amoral monsters to do vaguely right things by giving them the right incentives. Counting on politicians to do the right thing for the right reason is a fool's errand, most of the time. So, I'm content that it was the right thing to do, and don't demand that he have done it for the right reason.

  9. Mr. Bellmore, your comments as usual are on the money. You too, Henry. Unanimous consent is the issue here. By the way, the GOP tried to run the Senate that way too when they were in control, and it was Dems who perfected the "hold" maneuver. It frustrated the right as much as it now seems to frustrate Mr. Zasloff, but to that I say, just get over it. The Dems will be in the minority soon enough and they'll be exercising the same parliamentary routine, at least until the Senate is run more deliberately as it was designed to do.

  10. you guys should get a life and stop bitching about random shit that doesnt even aply to you thats just me though 🙂

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