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Tilting at Windmills

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May 31, 2008
By: Neil Sinhababu

DID REID AND MCCONNELL CUT A LIEBERMAN DEAL?....Here are two things I can't explain -- except, maybe, in terms of each other.

First: Even if Joe Lieberman decides to officially become a Republican, this doesn't give the GOP control of the Senate. This is because of the organizing resolution that was passed at the beginning of 2007, which doesn't allow a change in majority to change control of the chamber. Things were different in 2001-2002, when Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party gave Democrats control. Why did Mitch McConnell let Harry Reid set up the rules this way, when Tom Daschle didn't let Trent Lott set up the rules like that six years ago?

[Update: As it turns out, the 2001 resolution, not the 2007 resolution, is the unusual one. The 2001 resolution was written to allow control to flip so that proper accommodation could be made for the tiebreaking VP change from Gore to Cheney. The 2003 and 2005 resolutions look a lot like the 2007 resolution. This makes the 2007 resolution look a lot less like a concession from McConnell -- it's just the way things usually are. So I'm putting the rest of this post in extended entry. Don't bother to read it unless you're really bored.]

(Here's the text of the 2001 organizing resolution, which allows for control to switch. By contrast, this term's organizing resolutions list off the Democratic and Republican members of each committee by name, and specify which Democrats get to chair committees. As with so many good things, I got all this in an old post from fellow guestblogger Hilzoy.)

Second: Harry Reid hasn't been forcing the Republicans to filibuster very much, even on issues where the Democratic position is popular. There was the Iraq funding filibuster last July, but that ended a lot quicker than many of us expected. Why hasn't Harry Reid been forcing the Republicans to hurt themselves by filibustering popular legislation?

So here would be a plausible explanation -- these are the terms of a deal cut by Reid and McConnell at the beginning of the session. Reid's majority isn't hostage to Lieberman, while McConnell doesn't have to filibuster popular legislation. The loser? Lieberman, who can't sell his official party allegiance to McConnell for a high price, or threaten Reid that he'll do so. Reid and McConnell also get the advantage of a Senate that isn't clogged up by filibusters and can get to the important business of letting members appropriate funds for highways and post offices.

This is obviously just speculation -- I'm not the sort of guy who's privy to much insider information. But it's the best way I can explain a lot of otherwise inexplicable things. And if this was the deal, I'm pretty happy with Reid for making it. Since I wouldn't trust McConnell to keep his end of the bargain, it's a good thing that Reid got his goods delivered in advance.

Neil Sinhababu 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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Its not a 50-50 senate.

Posted by: stm177 on May 31, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

The Democrats stuck in the 2001 resolution because they had the tiebreaking vote (Al Gore) in the 50-50 senate through January 20, 2001.

Posted by: Alex F on May 31, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

That's true, but Reid was still in a difficult situation even with a majority, since Lieberman was known to be potentially unreliable. It's essentially a 51-50 senate, which is exactly the situation the Republicans were in in 2001.

I don't know why Lott felt he had to agree to allow the control of the Senate to change with a switch, can anyone provide additional info?

Posted by: ResumeMan on May 31, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

I've got to admit that your theory fits the otherwise mysterious facts. However, I don't think that Reid should have stuck to such a deal if he made it. It don't think it could have have been an explicit promise to allow 40 Republicans to block all legislation no matter what, so I suspect that it was a vague promise that could be reinterpreted. The Republicans have been much more obstructionist than any minority in history (another fact which supports your theory) Reid could say "I promised not to use the majority to play hard-ball by forcing you to actually filibuster, but you didn't say that you were going to obstruct everything so the deal is off" or something).

If Reid did make a deal to let 41 Republicans block all legislation, I think it was a bad deal. It would effectively give them a majority of 9 rather than just Dick Cheney if Lieberman switched parties. If there were such a deal, the Republicans would now be stronger in opposition than they would be in the majority. That too fits the facts, but undermines your conclusion that, if Reid made a deal, you are pleased.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on May 31, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Ask and you shall receive -- even before actually asking ;) Thanks Alex

Posted by: ResumeMan on May 31, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

People who know nothing about a subject should refrain from posting on it. The 107th Congress has a negotiated powersharing agreement for half of the first term, and that explains the unique features of their initial organization. As for this Congress' resolution, what do you suppose Republicans would do if they did achieve a Senate majority? PASS ANOTHER ORGANIZING RESOLUTION. Please quit posting on things you clearly misunderstand. You sound like Kevin when he tried to post about foreign policy.

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

The other thing is dumbass posts like this reinforce the trend among too much of the liberal blogosphere (Hello, Kos) to embrace kooky conspiracy theories. The reason legislation cannot make it through the Senate in a timely way or at all in some instances is because the two-centuries of rules and precedents of the chamber give tremendous power to individuals and minority groups in the chmaber to affect the schedule. So blame James Madison, not Harry Reid. Jackass.

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Harry Reid hasn't been forcing the Republicans to filibuster very much.
What in the world are you talking about?

Thus far in the 110th Congress, the Senate has held at least 65 filibuster votes -- already surpassing the previous two-year record of 57 filibusters. We still have about three more months in which the Senate will be in session (not counting the probable pro-forma sessions in August and October).

They're having MORE filibusters, not fewer.

Posted by: b on May 31, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Last, word, I promise, but this shit gets my goat. Your post displays a remarkable ignorance of the basic history of the Congress and your country. Did you know anything at all about the history of the Senate's consideration of civil right legislation? Why do you think it was so hard to get those bills through? I suppose there was some secret deal there too. Go read a book. Try Caro's "Master of the Senate." Its one of the books the Senate historian suggests new Senators read.

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

That's right, b, but Reid hasn't been forcing the Republicans to drag out their filibusters.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf on May 31, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Neil, I think you are making a mistake about the concept of filibusters. My understanding is that there is a rule or a continuing resolution in place that allows the failure of a vote on cloture to be decisive, eliminating the need for an actual on the floor Mr. Smith-style filibuster. The idea was to conserve floor time for business that could be agreed to. (The merits of that rule, of course, are highly debatable.)That is why the Democrats keep talking about the GOP's record number of filibusters in this Congress. I don't believe that it was a backroom deal between Reid and McConnell, but part of the governing resolutions that each house establishes at the start of each Congress.

So, as I understand it, Reid HAS been forcing the Republicans to filibuster, but it is a paper filibuster. Tactically, forcing them to do a true floor filibuster on some truly popular votes might be more to the political advantage of Democrats.

Posted by: anoregonreader on May 31, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Neil the Ethical Werewolf, that's a legitimate point. I hope Sen. Reid does begin to force the GOP to speechify all night long as the election season heats up. The fact that he has not done so is, in my opinion, a real mistake.

But this does not nullify the serious problems with the post that we're commenting on. The author: 1) clearly doesn't understand Senate rules, 2) is blaming the Democrats for something they have not done, 3) is reinforcing GOP talking points by refusing to call a filibuster a filibuster.

Posted by: b on May 31, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

> The reason legislation cannot make it
> through the Senate in a timely way or at
> all in some instances is because the
> two-centuries of rules and precedents of the
> chamber give tremendous power to individuals and
> minority groups in the chmaber to affect the
> schedule.

Strangely, when the Republicans held the majority they ignored all these years of precedent and rammed through their legislation regardless of whether any Democrats at all objected no matter what the number. Odd that.


Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 31, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

If there is such a secret deal, it should, um, be public. It should not be a secret.

The scenario you are describing is of such magnitude and significance that having a deal like that and keeping its strictures secret is completely antithetical to what American democracy is supposed to be.

Supposed to be....

Posted by: Anon on May 31, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

The Senator from Israel is a gaping sphincter and him not becoming VP was the only good outcome of the 2000 presidential election.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 31, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

I do not think it is a mistake to not make Republicans engage in "Mr. Smith goes to washington" filibusters. As I post here every couple of months when some uninformed person like Neil makes this silly and tired argument yet again, the reason that there are not filibusters of that type anymore (and have not been since Mike Mansfield was Majority Leader) is because such filibusters are harder on the majority than they are on the filibusterer. In order to engage in a filibuster, a Senator simply needs to hold the floor in debate, perhaps with a colleague nearby for help. The majority, however, has to keep 49 Senators constantly on hand or else the chamber will have to adjourn for lack of a quorum. Simply put: Forcing that type of filibusters chews up your own guys and, more importantly, it doesn't work. Plain and simple. No conspiracy theory required. Which is why Harry Reid doesn't do it, and why Bill Frist didn;t do it, and Why Tom Dashcle didn't do it, and why Trent Lott didn't do it, and why Bob Dole didn't do it, and why Bob Byrd didn't do it, and why Howard Baker didn't do it. (See a trend here?)

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

No Cranky. What Republicans did was peal off enough Democratic votes to get 60 votes to invoke cloture and get to a final vote on legislation they favored. Maybe it would be easier for all of us to accept if there was some big dark conspiracy by which they cheated. But the simple fact is enough Democrats sold out and voted for stuff like the bankruptcy bill and other abominations for it to pass, without any rules being broken or any dark conspiracies being hatched. The biggest crimes are always right there in the open. But guys like Neil and a lot of the Kos kids want to spin stories.

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Not sure about Reid, but, Pelosi is easily explained: she started "giving in" right after the story hit the papers about her and her husband potentially profiting off of a backroom land deal.

The timeline for Pelosi is too exact to be anything but political blackmail.

We were briefly treated to a story in the MSM about Nancy Pelosi and her husband being potentially involved in shady land deals in San Francisco. Whether this is true, or just another fake scandal by the GOP, the issue was broached in the media on May 10, 2007, and since that time Nancy Pelosi has been very quiet. By sheer coincidence, this "scandal" was trotted out the same month that President Bush vetoed the Iraq Supplemental Bill (May 1, 2007).

In October 2006, one month prior to the midterm elections that put Democrats in charge of Congress, it was reported that Harry Reid received $1.1 million from the sale of land in 2004. Harry Reid had to then amend his reports to more "fully explain" the deal. Whether this explains why Sen. Reid has allowed the GOP to put a 60 vote mandate on controversial bills, instead of forcing the GOP to actually filibuster, remains to be seen.

I also found this statement made by Sen. Leahy in March 2004:

Just three weeks ago Members of the Committee were briefed by the Sergeant at Arms on the preliminary indications of his 3-month investigation into the theft of computer files of Democratic offices by staff working for Republican Members of this Committee. Yesterday afternoon the Sergeant at Arms briefed Senator Hatch and me, again, and provided us with a copy of his report.

This statement was released when it was found out that Republicans were spying on Democrats computers by accessing information they would normally be denied access to have, so, we know for a fact that Republicans did indeed spy on Democrats in Congress. We also know that there are those in Congress who have used those computers for, shall we say, less than honorable purposes, simply because they are privileged.

In addition, we have Democratic Party official's offices broken into, such as in Minnesota. It wasn't the first break-in, either, where laptops were stolen. But, the numbers, which seemed to escape the MSM, could be staggering as this one case seems to tell us:

A file of 93,000 of the 106,000 names was gathered for computer testing purposes in December 2006 and was still on the laptop when it was stolen. Trying to find a common thread, Democratic legislators asked if there was a disproportionate number of legislators, state employees and Democrats on the list. Law said she could not comment on whether the lawmakers represented a disproportionate share of the 106,000 names, which represents about 10 percent of all tax filers.

If you want to find unethical activity, you usually start by tracking the money and bouncing that through IRS records. The file in question above? It held:

The individual taxpayers consisted largely of citizens who filed their taxes via computer or over the telephone, the tax commissioner told lawmakers at a special public hearing called by the legislature's finance committee.

It also held information on:

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of New Haven, state Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams of Brooklyn, Sen. Jonathan Harris of West Hartford, House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan of Meriden and Reps. J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden and Carlo Leone of Stamford.

All of the above named are Democrats who are, or were, in office at some level. It is true that the file also had names of Republicans as well. But, that data shouldn't have been in the possession of the employee to begin with, by the articles own account. Regardless, the issue of GOP spying on Democrats is well established.

I will also add that this level of spying on Democrats by the GOP, as the articles attest, reached their pinnacle after President Bush took office. Also, there is this quote from this article:

From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.

Glitch? Just how did this "glitch" come about and when? It seems that it was a technician working for Sen. Leahy in 2001 who caused the glitch. If this is the case, how then would other Senator's and Congressmen know about it? It seems they were told about it. If that isn't enough to make you question, how about this quote:

But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely disclosures is now known to have been far more extensive than the November incident, staffers and others familiar with the investigation say.

Keep in mind, these "intrusions" came from at least the 2001 to early 2003; either before, or after, 9/11 (Patriot Act and anthrax attack time-frame) to right around our attack on Iraq (how many Democrats signed onto the AUMF?). That is just those computers and it doesn't even touch the fact that we could possibly add anything that may have been uncovered with the use of the NSA warrantless wiretapping.

Whether or not this is true, that key Democrats in Congress are being blackmailed into complicity, the case can be made convincingly. While the evidence to this point is little, what is there is very damning, especially in the case of Nancy Pelosi (to which I have shown correlation between a scandal being brought out and her capitulation afterwards).

Posted by: Michael Gass on May 31, 2008 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Just when you think nothing can be stupider than this paranoid, evidence-empty thread. Thank you, Michael Gass, for reminding us that things can always get worse.

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Should we assume, Neil, from your "update" above that you are retracting your silly, factless, smear of Harry Reid? Maybe just apologize and take the whole damn thread down would be the thing to do. Put up something on which you know something and does't libel a loyal Democrat who is trying very hard under incredible oppositin and duress?

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Pat, I actually took this post to be rather complimentary to Harry Reid. I thought he'd made a clever move to prevent Lieberman from causing trouble. Now I can see that isn't the case.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf on May 31, 2008 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Pat - you're just factually wrong.

If the Senate Republicans were to take control, a new organizing resolution would be subject to a filibuster. Unless the Democrats felt like handing over control, they couldn't be forced to.

Don't claim expertise when you don't possess it.

Posted by: Dan Cock on May 31, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Addendum - I should probably clarify and start my previous post with "If the Senate Republicans were to suddenly have a majority of Senators midsession."

Posted by: Dan Cock on May 31, 2008 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Dan, that's a huge relief! Given your "expertise" I'm going to reccomend that the Democrats filibuster all future organization resolutions. Under your scenario, it'll mean they'll be in the majority FOREVER! Where do you get your striking expertise? I'm just embarassed that in my 14 years of working as a congressional aide, this plan hasn't occured to me.

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

If only Senate Republicans had the benefit of Dan Cock's parliamentary genius when Jim Jeffords switched parties a few years back! Woulda saved 'em a lot of trouble.

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK
People who know nothing... things you clearly misunderstand... dumbass posts like this... kooky conspiracy theories... Jackass... remarkable ignorance... Did you know anything at all... Go read a book... some uninformed person... silly and tired argument... nothing can be stupider... silly, factless, smear... take the whole damn thread down... libel...

Dang, Pat. Insecure much?

Substantively, you've missed Neil's and others' point. The reason a lot of people (myself included) would prefer that Reid insist on the occasional "hard" filibuster is our belief that the political benefits would far outweigh the procedural and legislative costs (since a successful "filibuster" prevents the legislation from passing in either case). Nobody's saying that it's not a pain the ass.

I'm particularly amused by this part:

The majority, however, has to keep 49 Senators constantly on hand or else the chamber will have to adjourn for lack of a quorum.

Aside from the talkathon and the quorum call, how is this outcome different from the filibuster-by-adjournment that the GOP is so successful with now? Cloture fails, the Senate adjourns, the legislation being blocked doesn't pass, and everybody goes home. No filibuster-by-talkathon and no quorum call, but no legislation either. Sure, the talkathon is a pain, but at least it makes the evening news that the GOP is blocking the bill. That's the point of doing it.

Besides which, who is it exactly that called for quorum at 3am in this scenario? The minority?

Since you're such a brilliant parliamentarian and couldn't possibly learn anything from mere mortals, perhaps you'd be generous enough to explain it in a little more detail. Suppose minority Senator X is engaged in a filibuster of S.1234, and notices at 3am that it's just him and Senator Y (from the majority), while everybody else has left the chamber. What should Senator X do, and what should Senator Y do in response?

...14 years of working as a congressional aide...

Ohhh, you're a professional villager. Now I get it. Yes, Pat, talkathons should be opposed because they're terribly uncivil and confrontational and would cause people to miss important dinner parties. You could have just said so in the first place.

Posted by: evil twin on May 31, 2008 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Neil,

I know you went to Harvard, but I'm not sure this whole punditry thing really suits you.

Your reasoning often reminds me of a quote from Lincoln.... "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

Posted by: Bad Moon Rising on May 31, 2008 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Simmer down, there twin. Neil published a thread here that is ill informed and nothing short of kooky. It's also borderline insulting to Reid. I called him on it, because this is an area know something about. Whatever your business is, I'm sure you obviously know about, and might have a similar reaction if someone wrote something insulting about.

As for your question, a filibusterer would note the absence of a quorum, and unless the majority could produce one, the Senate would have to adjourn (or issue warrants of arrest for the absentees.) Either result would further the filibusterers goal of stopping Senate business.

How is it different from now? It's different because although the filibusterers can stymie the bill they oppose, OTHER BUSINESS can still go forward at other points in the day. In other words, the kind of filibuster that happens today still permits some things get done. In the Mr. Smith kind, NOTHING else gets done because you are forcing someone to hold the floor. And (for the reasons described above) you are very rarely successful in breaking a filbuster of this type.

What is followed today is sometimes called the "two track" system because it allows the Senate the operate on two tracks --- on one track a controversial bill is being stopped from moving ahead. But during other parts of the day, other important bills are passing. That's the reason Mike Mansfield started it. So filibusters who were opposed to CERTAIN bills, didn't kill ALL bills by holding the floor.

WHile I respect your view, I don't know how you can say the political benefits of accomplishing nothing outweigh the political benefits of accomplishing some of your goals, not to mention the repsonsiblity the majority has, by the way, to enact the regular spending bills which keep the government running, the troops funded, etc.

As for cocktail parties, I've not been to any. Despite what you see on T.V., I work long days and am poor as a church mouse. And, unfortunatly, no one looks like Rob Lowe on the West Wing.

Posted by: Pat on May 31, 2008 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

One of the things I find really odd, Pat, is that you keep regarding this as some kind of anti-Reid post. If you read the post carefully -- especially the part at the end, I praise Reid for driving a smart bargain.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf on May 31, 2008 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

Gee Pat, it's nice of you to deign to share your overwhelmingly superior knowledge of the situation here.

But you really are an asshole, so I stopped reading at about your third post. Please feel free to find some other thread to piss on.

Posted by: ResumeMan on May 31, 2008 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

One of the things I find really odd, Pat, is that you keep regarding this as some kind of anti-Reid post. If you read the post carefully -- especially the part at the end, I praise Reid for driving a smart bargain.

Oh, but recognizing that would deny Pat the chance to demonstrate his talents -- ranting and white-hot jackass-ery. Quick -- identify the comment thread where he's shown up and NOT created an opportunity to label someone, anyone, stupid or naive or elitist or pitifully lacking in something he has in spades. Like rantability and white-hot jackass-ery.

At least he has the decency to keep his sorry ass home at night instead of foisting himself on unsuspecting cocktail party goers. More likely, they know enough to give him the wrong address.

Posted by: evil twin's evil-er twin on May 31, 2008 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

Well, your Mom always gave me the right address! Wink.

Hey. sorry, guys. What say we encourage Neil to write a completely ridiculous post on something you know about (whatever that is) and I can show up and make silly, ill-informed, comments just like you have done here! Then we'd be even! Would that make you feel better?

Posted by: Pat on June 1, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

What say we encourage Neil to write a completely ridiculous post on something you know about (whatever that is) and I can show up and make silly, ill-informed, comments just like you have done here!

Or not. You already show up to make silly, ill-informed comments -- which is fine, and & of itself. Lots of folks do that. But spare us the cartoonish outrage because your expert sensibilities have been offended. The previous commentor was right -- all your sturm und drang reeks of insecurity. I'm as sorry as anyone to learn that you were the prison bitch in third grade, but that's something you should be taking up with your therapist. It bores the rest of us.

Posted by: junebug on June 1, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

"Prison bitch in third grade?" Well one of us needs a therapist, anyway.

Posted by: Pat on June 1, 2008 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Lie-berman is already a republican.This household sent an email saying gees--is it not beneath you to repeatedly go on the racist ranting Hannity radio show?
An hour later spouse's PC crashed.\//..

Posted by: anonymously on June 1, 2008 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

Dude, the Dems were briefly in control of the Senate during 2001 between the time that the new Congress was seated and VP Cheney took office. For a couple weeks, the Senate was 49 Dems 1 Independent + Gore. After the inauguration, it was 50 GOP + Cheney. Since the organizing took place under Gore and could not be undone, the party defection to independent flipped the Senate.

Under Reid, the Senate is 49 Dems + 2 Independents. 51-49 allowed the Dems to call all the shots. For organization, the Dems control the Senate.

On Iraq, the GOP controls the Senate because it is 49 GOP + Lieberman + Cheney. The idea that Senate Democrats can control Iraq policy is fiction. They are outnumbered.

Posted by: bakho on June 3, 2008 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK



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