Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 28, 2010

A 'UNILATERAL DECISION TO END LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY IN THE SENATE'.... Stan Collender speculated over the weekend that Senate Republicans may very well try to shut down the pre-adjournment legislative schedule, and possibly even try to shut down the government, this week. As it turns out, Collender was onto something. Roll Call reports on a new GOP scheme that the newspaper accurately describes as "remarkable."

Sen. Jim DeMint warned his colleagues Monday night that he would place a hold on all legislation that has not been "hot-lined" by the chamber or has not been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday. [...]

Traditionally, the Senate passes noncontroversial measures by unanimous consent at the end of most workdays, a process known as hot-lining. DeMint, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and others have fought against the practice for years and have dedicated staff members to reviewing bills that are to be hot-lined.

As a result, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have generally given DeMint, Coburn and others time to review legislation before proceeding with unanimous consent agreements.

But in a terse e-mail sent to all 100 Senate chiefs of staff Monday evening, Steering Committee Chief of Staff Bret Bernhardt warned that DeMint would place a hold on any legislation that had not been hot-lined or been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday.

Roll Call added that aides from both parties were "stunned" by DeMint's stunt, which effectively amounts to "a unilateral decision to end legislative activity in the Senate." If he doesn't personally approve of a measure, DeMint will kill it.

The Senate is still coming to terms with the practical implications, since the chamber was set to adjourn anyway on Thursday. But the Senate is set to consider, among other things, a "cloture motion to begin debate on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1."

In other words, senators may have to scramble to craft "a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating past Sept. 30," and the death of several "non-controversial bills that both parties are looking to clear before Election Day."

David Dayen has more on DeMint's "one-man government shutdown," including some procedural insights from David Waldman.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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If allowing a single senator to block legislation isn't a legal requirement, but instead is considered to be normal procedure, tell him to stuff it.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on September 28, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

How is this a "stunt"? Am I missing something? It seems like DeMint is just asking for a copy of legislation before it gets voted on. Am I wrong?

Posted by: square1 on September 28, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

square1 -- it's not DeMint's reading stuff that's the problem, it's this part: "If he doesn't personally approve of a measure, DeMint will kill it." The Constitution gives the President a Veto -- it doesn't give every Senator one.

Posted by: David in NY on September 28, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

All that has to happen is for Reid to take a stand and not honor the hold. I don't see how allowing abuse of procedure is necessary to maintain the legitimate use of procedure. I think DeMint is just doing this because it's his last opportunity to allow the Democrats to show how spineless they are. I think we know how this will turn out...

Posted by: PhilTBastid on September 28, 2010 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Once again, I find myself wondering if the biggest threat to our ongoing national security isn't the absurd rules of the US Senate. An organization where such a stunt is possible under the rules is clearly broken.

Posted by: biggerbox on September 28, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

If he doesn't personally approve of a measure, DeMint will kill it.

But DeMint didn't say that, Steve Benen did.

I'm not saying that you are wrong. I'm just saying that, based on the quote that Benen provided, it doesn't sound like he's demanding to approve of all bills, just to see them. I guess it depends on what "cleared by his office" means.

Posted by: square1 on September 28, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

When, oh when, will the Democratic caucus develop an interest in procedural reform? In the 1993-94 session the Republicans also set a filibuster record and it worked out very well for them. Democrats have no one to blame but themselves if they continue to leave rules in place that allow the minority to unreasonably obstruct them.

Posted by: Steve on September 28, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Another question. What is the deal with holds? Like many progressives, I recall Chris Dodd putting a hold on the FISA immunity bill and the leadership in his own party ignored him.

Are holds true procedural blocks? Or is honoring a hold simply a matter of collegiality? Because if it is the latter, my message to the Dems would be to stop whining, ignore DeMint, and pass the continuing resolution.

Posted by: square1 on September 28, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Limo Liberal says...

"Boy those nasty republicans sure play hard ball...
They don't suffer moderation...
What a tribe of dolts and boors.
My oh my...

And the word "moderation" reminds me of something too...
What was it?
Oh yes I remember now...

How's that million man moderate march or ours coming along?
Did you order enough flowers for our chill float?
And Jeeves...
Can you bring us another slice of brie...
And hie the canapes too."

Posted by: koreyel on September 28, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

square1 -- I think it's pretty clear that Steve interpreted DeMint correctly. If his office doesn't "clear" it (i.e. "approve of it"), he would "place a hold" on it, that is, "kill" it. What's your alternative reading of this clear sentence?

Posted by: David in NY on September 28, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Whine all you want on 'procedure'. This SOB is not doing the job that he was sent to Congress to do. If ANY one of us pulled that stunt we would be fined or fired. So DO IT! You wanna play GAMES? Fine. Pay your fine at the cashier and it will go to reduce the federal deficit you say you want to lower...except of course, when you don't. This is BS.

Posted by: SYSPROG on September 28, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

What difference will it make ?
Obama is too cowardly, he won't pass any bills anyway
It doesn't matter
Thanks Obama !!!

Posted by: frisco on September 28, 2010 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

David, I wouldn't put it past DeMint. But it isn't at all clear that your interpretation is correct. What it sounds like to me, is that DeMint is just accelerating the timeline for consideration of all bills before the Senate adjourns.

And I would love for someone with actual procedural knowledge explain whether DeMindt's hold would have to be honored by Reid or whether he could ignore it if he chose to.

I seem to recall the Dems ignoring holds on Bernanke's nomination as well. But I don't remember if they were actually ignored or if the holds were ultimately removed.

Posted by: square1 on September 28, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Part of me says "oh, please, oh please shut down the Federal government right before the election, Sen. DeMint thereby highlighting the mental disorders that make you, and your party, unfit to govern.

Then I think of the actual headlines we'll see from the MSM:

MSNBC: DeMint Shuts Down Government.

NPR: Democrats Accuse Republican DeMint of Shutting Down Government.

CNN: Some Democrats Accuse Republican of Shutting Down Government.

AP: Partisan Gridlock Shuts Down Government.

Fox: Democrats Shut Down Government!

Politico: Brilliant Republican Stroke of Genius Leaves Democrats Sputtering

Face the Nation: McCain blames Democrats for DeMint Shutdown

Meet the Press: Graham chides DeMint, decries partison gridlock that led to shutdown of government.

ABC This Week: Lieberman proposes bipartisan gang to end bipartisan gridlock that led to shutdown of government.

Fox News Sunday: Bolton Denounces Islamic Extremists in Administration of Being Behind Government Shutdown!

Posted by: Another Steve on September 28, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

The desperate Repubs are moving closer to all out takeover attempts. It's laughable.

Posted by: Bob M on September 28, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

"DeMint's stance could mean trouble for Democrats if the two parties don't quickly agree on a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating past Sept. 30."

I don't know the procedural details, but if this article is accurate, DeMint is giving the Dems a gold-plated political attack. In short, let DeMint's ego become the poster child for GOP obstruction.

Let DeMint put a hold on the federal budget. Let him shut down the federal government.

Let's face it, the GOP wants to use a federal shutdown as a political weapon in the near future, but they don't want it now. DeMint is almost certainly getting ahead of his caucus and the GOP won't like filibustering the federal budget at this time for no real reason. He'll have to back down and the tactic will lose some of its novelty and effectiveness.

Posted by: danimal on September 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

What the fuck is this "hold" bullshit, and why is it so out of hand? I don't remember ever hearing one thing about a "hold" when I was in school learning about the government. This shit has to end.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on September 28, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

procedural question: Are loaded firearms allowed on the senate floor? Or do we still have to use canes?

Posted by: DAY on September 28, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

@DAY - I believe Sharon Angle's "second amendment remedies" probably include firearms on the senate floor.

Posted by: danimal on September 28, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

FWIW, I am going to assume until proven otherwise that Reid has the discretion to ignore DeMint. If Reid chooses to let the federal government shutdown rather than piss off his Senate colleagues, well... don't expect any praise from me.

Posted by: square1 on September 28, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

When are there going to be adverse consequences for actions like this, either in the form of sanctions or extreme negative publicity?

Until Dems decide to really make this an issue, shitheads like Demint will continue to control Congress.

I just can't believe there is nothing Reid can do about it.

Posted by: bdop4 on September 28, 2010 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

And yet in 2013, when they ask Minority Leader Schumer whether Democrats will do anything similar to block the truly radical agenda of President Palin, Majority Leader McConnell, and Speaker Bachmann, he'll say the Blue Dogs won't let him.

Posted by: Steve M. on September 28, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK


It wasn't used like this in the past.
The Repubs have found a way to block legislation that would be seen as good by the country.
The food safety bill is one example.
It's the only power they have and they are using it.

Posted by: Maude on September 28, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

square one said'don't expect ant praise from me".
Basically we don't expect anything coherent,sensible, on point with the discussion or even remotely relevant from you.

Posted by: Gandalf on September 28, 2010 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Frisco??? Obama doesn't 'pass bills'...that's the Congress' baliwick. The President signs the bills into law. ONE MORE TIME blame Obama all you want but try to understand the facts of how the three branches of government work.

Posted by: SYSPROG on September 28, 2010 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Here's what a 'hold' really is:

1) You know the votes of 60 Senators are needed to break a filibuster and invoke cloture. But the other big deal about filibustering is that even after 60+ Senators vote for cloture, the minority gets to keep debate open on the bill for 30 hours of Senate floor time before the actual vote on the actual bill.

That's in Senate Rule 22: http://rules.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=RuleXXII

2) The deal is, the Senate doesn't have 30 hours of floor time to spare over every little thing. So the GOP has been forcing cloture votes on everything, even things that they favor unanimously, in order to eat up floor time and limit what the majority can do.

3) The usual way around taking everything to a cloture vote is by asking for unanimous consent to proceed directly to a vote.

4) A 'hold' is an advance notification that a Senator is going to refuse to give his consent. In other words, a 'hold' is a Senator's saying, "you don't have unanimous consent because I'm denying my consent. You're going to have to hold a cloture vote, and then I'll tie up the Senate floor with 'debate' on this bill for 30 hours after the cloture vote."

If the Dems are still in the majority in the Senate in January and, as expected, lack the guts to do away entirely with the filibuster, the absolute least they need to do is knock that 30 hours down to just 1 hour. If they did this, a 'hold' would no longer be a problem.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on September 28, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Nice job explaining low-tech cyclist!

You took the words right out of my mouth...change the senate rule from 30 hours to 30 minutes. End of problem.

Posted by: Gridlock on September 28, 2010 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ ...

These fuckholes bitched and moaned FOR WEEKS about "up or down votes!" when they were in charge, and then prattle on about the Constitution as if they wrote it.

But nowhere does the Constitution give just one Senator the right to run our nation.

Just ... wow. What ego-driven, willfully-ignorant, hypocritical fucks the GOP has become.

Posted by: Mark D on September 28, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

DeMint was also part of the Republicans blocking subpoena power for the investigation of the gulf oil spill. Billions in federal money spent, deaths and injuries, the involvement of several local, state and federal agencies (including the military), and Jim isn't interested in finding out who was responsible.

Despite all his rhetoric, Jim DeMint goes to bat for special interests and big donors.

Posted by: Stephen on September 28, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Reconciliationville !

(after letting the ReTHUGlicans shut the government down first)

Posted by: Joe Friday on September 28, 2010 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

low-tech cyclist, good description of the hold process. The other side of that is knowing just how many bills, usually routine measures necessary to keeping government running smoothly, Congress needs to pass each session and how many procedural votes are required during to course of considering those bills.

Even if you completely do away with the filibuster, the minority can slow down the operations of Congress to the point where it can't finish all of its necessary business by demanding a roll-call vote (which typical takes one hour) on every single procedural motion. Or even on made up motions like redundant quorum calls.

Posted by: tanstaafl on September 28, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, low-tech cyclist.

It answers the question of whether the majority leader can just ignore the hold. It would appear the answer is yes, but you still have to deal with the 30 hours of post cloture debate (which also can be cut down).

But that's fine. We aren't talking about staring DeMint down on endless bills. We are just talking about staring him down to pass one bill to keep the government running. All Reid has to do is to keep the Senate open for an extra couple of days. Cry me a river.

Posted by: square1 on September 28, 2010 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Message to DeMint. Go f888 yourself. I am working 10, 12, 14 hr days, often 6 days a week, to produce oil for this country.

Get off you god damn ass. You bastard.

Posted by: bigtuna on September 28, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

If the Democrats were smart, their first reaction would be that this is not a problem but an opportunity to be exploited.

Posted by: David1234 on September 28, 2010 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect that this is more of an internal power grab on the part of Sen. DeMint than a poke in the Democrats eye (that's just a side benefit.)

For some time there has been a war going on in the Republican party over who will be in charge. Demint vs. McConnell, basically, and if the Republicans take over the Senate due to the victory of various tea party candidates (all supported by Sen. DeMint) then you will see some subtle fireworks with a lot of money being thrown around by Dick Armey, the Koch brothers, etc. to make it happen.

Posted by: mikeyes on September 28, 2010 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

DeMint = shadow leader?

Posted by: Jeany on September 29, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK



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