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September 07, 2006

Earmark/Pork Transparency Bill In Bad Shape, Due To Democratic Obstructionism

Deep Stoat, who would know, tells me this:

All, at this point it appears as though S.2590 will not pass unanimously due to Democratic obstruction. Procedurally, this means that the fate of the bill is in the hands of Sen. Frist. While we’re quite encouraged by his numerous public commitments to get a vote on the bill before the end of the month, time is running out. Because of the shortened election year calendar, we will have only a week or two at most to pass the bill out of the Senate, resolve differences with the House, and get the bill signed into law.

As such, it is imperative that Sen. Frist set a date certain for an up-or-down vote on passage on S.2590 as soon as possible. If we could pass the bill by the end of next week, we would then have two weeks to resolve differences with the House and ultimately send a bill to the president before both chambers adjourn at the end of this month. Time is our biggest enemy right now. As always, let me know if you have any questions about the bill or about parliamentary procedure.

I've asked him a few questions about procedure. I'll update when he responds.

Update! Deep Stoat got back to me quickly. His answers to my questions about an override of the hold, and the importance of unanimity, are posted below the fold.

My questions were:

Thanks... can Frist overrule a secret hold? Do you think he will?

Why is unanimity important? Is it because without that the bill will be subject to slow-death by a hundred amendements designed to stall passage?

Here are the anwers:

Yes, Frist can absolutely overrule a hold, and he has publicly committed himself to doing just that by the end of the month. The only kicker is we can’t wait that long if we want the bill to become law.

Procedurally, a hold is nothing more than a Senator’s stated intention to filibuster the “motion to proceed” to a bill. If the bill is put on the floor, and that Senator follows through with his intention, then it will take a “cloture” vote, needing 60 votes, to end debate on the motion to proceed. At that point, the bill itself is the subject of debate. And if that same Senator still wants to filibuster, another cloture vote will be required to end debate. Once that cloture motion is agreed to, a final vote on passage can proceed.

In reality, though, holds are used because it’s rare that small, unimportant bills will ever get the floor time necessary to defeat a hold. Holds are almost always defeated by merely putting a bill on the floor, because no Senator wants to spend 60 hours filibustering a bill that nobody really cares about. And in the case of our bill, I will be shocked if anyone wants to filibuster or oppose it. Thus, by merely putting S.2590 on the floor, Senator Frist has a good chance of defeating the holds without ever needing a vote to end debate.

[U]nanimity is important because it precludes the possibility of prolonged debate, usually used to indefinitely prevent passage. After a cloture vote is agreed to, there must be 30 hours of debate unless that time is yielded back by unanimous consent. Thus, a Senator could force up to 60 hours of debate (effectively an entire week of the Senate’s time) on any given bill, assuming that there were 60 votes to support each cloture motion.

Is This Frist's Top Priority? He suggests it is, but then, he's also crazy-determined to have a vote on the all-important issue of internet gambling.

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posted by Ace at 11:26 AM

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