The world, or at least the blogosphere, is abuzz today about Sen. Tom Coburn’s demand to have Sen. Sanders 760 page amendment read on the Senate floor. According to the normal rules, this should happen for all bills and amendments, but the requirement is routinely waived with unanimous consent. Needless to say, that means one ornery Senator (or two, as DeMint joined him) can force the read, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. This went on for a few hours before Sanders pulled his amendment (ranting the whole way). Here’s DeMint’s statement (H/T Hot Air)
“Democrats are playing a bait and switch trick — wasting our time debating a bill they’ve rejected while writing a new one in secret. Right now, behind closed doors, Democrats are writing a brand new bill, thousands of pages long, and want to rush it through before Christmas.”
“Americans are tired of watching their leaders in Washington pass bills they haven’t even bothered to read,” said Senator DeMint. “If Senator Reid won’t slow down this debate, we will do it for him. This bill allows the federal government to take over our health care system, and it must be stopped. We will use whatever procedural tools are necessary to defeat this bill.”
Now, despite the fact that this is being referred to as a stalling tactic by just about everyone (and, well, it is), in truth this is simply common sense to us, the measly little common people. So however much that certain Leftists rant and rave about how nutty this move is or how partisan it is or how improper this move is, that’s not going to resonate. If I’m going to vote for something, I want to know what I’m voting on. And if someone just comes up with a 700 page amendment out of the blue, I want to know what’s in it. Now, I’m not going to be naive; we know all 40 Republicans would vote against this no matter what (as would many Democrats). But the way Congress should work is that they would vote based on what’s in the bill. And yes, we know from the gist of it that the Reps would not vote for it based on the bill, but in theory one could try to improve the amendment. But again, that requires actually knowing what’s in it. And if you don’t have time to read it beforehand, then by all means, demand it be read on the floor.
Parliamentary procedures may be arcane and confusing, but they’re based on common-sense principles. And one of the common sense principles is that the Senate should know what they’re voting on. Unanimous consent implies that they all understand the bill (although we know that’s not the case in the real world). That’s why it has to be unanimous; if one person doesn’t understand it, the voting can’t go forward. Bloggers and talking heads and politicians may simply view it as a stalling tactic, but those of us who still have a foot in the real world know otherwise. That’s why you constantly hear the refrain of “Read the bill!” directed towards Congresscritters courtesy of angry constituents. It registers with the public because it’s true.
That’s why I was a bit disappointed to see Coburn’s response to Sanders removing the bill, a response that Michelle Malkin appears to echo. Basically, they say that it was against the rules for Sanders to withdraw his amendment before the entire bill was read. By his reasoning, all business would have had to be stalled until the reading was complete, which could have lasted 10-20 hours. Now, I’m not an expert on Roberts Rules of Order, or whatever variation the Senate uses. Maybe Coburn’s technically correct; I don’t know. The relevant text (which can be found at target=”_blank”>The American Spectator) makes it look like Coburn’s got a point. But when it comes to common sense, it’s a silly argument. If the amendment is getting withdrawn, then there’s no reason for all of the Senators to understand it. If there’s no reason for them to understand it, there’s no reason for it to be read. Railing on that point and railing on Reid for allowing the reading to be halted is not going to win any points with the public, and it will be a lot easier for the MSM to paint Coburn and DeMint as the bad guys if they continue railing on this point (the MSM is already trying, of course).
Of course, they’re not the only ones making stupid statements (it’s politics, after all). The Democrats immediately decided on the talking point that Coburn’s request endangers our troops, since the Senate still needs to deal with DoD funding that expires this week. This is, of course, an absurd argument. Coburn was well within his rights as a Senator to demand the full reading. Not only is it known that he can do that, he had already talked about it. Everyone knew he had the power to do that. What Coburn does not have the power to do is set the Senate’s schedule. Last time I checked, that’s Reid’s responsibility. If he’s so concerned about the troops, then he could have brought that up before an amendment he knew would not pass and was there purely for politics. Any delay in DoD funding is solely his fault, not Coburn’s. Besides, there’s still plenty of time.
And, of course, there’s the old “But what if the Democrats did this!” argument, which sadly seems to be indicative of how partisan our world has become. While Republican leadership may fret over this, the common sense reply to the possibility of Dems doing this when the Reps have control is simple: GREAT! Bring it on! Better yet, have the Republicans do it first! Again, this is all about common sense. We expect our elected representatives to know what they’re voting on. This is true whether it’s a bill I want passed or a bill I want killed. We shouldn’t be embarrassed at the bills we put forth. We should be proud. We should want people to know what’s in them. This is a representative democracy, and the tenant of democracy is that the general public is smart enough to know what’s best (crazy, I know, but that’s the belief behind it). If we are going to believe in a representative democracy, then we should let the public know the bills when we do too. No more voting on 3000 page bills that no one knows what’s in it. No more trying to ram unpopular bills through before public opinion can get too negative. If we’re going to make vast, sweeping changes, it should be, oh, what’s the word Obama used? Oh, right. Transparent
And if that means the death of 2000 page monstrosities, so much the better. You don’t want to wait several days for the clerks to finish reading the bill? Just make it 100 pages instead. Sure, there’s no room for all that pork and hidden taxes and massive bureaucracy and irrelevent riders, but, well, that’s a bonus, not a bug.