In the Senate, Dems are eyeing Tom Coburn and his promised “hundreds” of amendments warily. So warily that they're considering an obscure procedural tactic some Republicans are labeling the "nuclear option." Under reconciliation rules, debate is limited to 20 hours and only 51 votes are needed for final passage as the budget is immune to filibusters. But there is no limit on amendments and if Republicans file hundreds of them the Senate Parliamentarian could need months to rule on all of them. Democratic leaders could, after a few days of amendments, say that Republicans are trying to filibuster by amendment and given that filibusters are not allowed in reconciliation they could rule all other amendments “dilatory” and move to final passage. Republicans, including Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl, have plead with Democrats not to employ this highly unusual tactic saying it could have dire effects on the Senate as an institution and on other pending legislation. "It's just one of those things that you don't do," Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters today. "You can imagine what would happen if irresponsible presiding officers exercised that power it can always come back to bite you when you're in the opposite situation so as a general rule it has not been done."
So let me get this straight: If Republicans want to introduce an endless stream of amendments simply to prevent a majority of Senators from putting the final touches on health care reform, that's fine. But if Democrats ask the presiding chair to rule the Republican amendments dilatory, that's a violation of protocol and a breach of good faith?
Kyl's quote at the end makes clear the absurdity of the GOP position. "You can imagine" what would happen if the Democrats tried this, he warns. In other words, when Republicans are in the majority someday, they'd be able to thwart Democratic obstructionism in the same way.
Yes, I can imagine that scenario. And it makes me happy, or at least content, because that's how representative democracy is supposed to function. Elections matter and majorities get to rule, except in a few, constitutionally mandated circumstances.
By the way, Newton-Small's dispatch also discusses some other procedural issues--ones that divide Democrats rather than than Republicans. I'll have more to say on those later.