What makes the newest United States Senator more powerful than a ten-term Representative? Every Senator has the power to stop consideration of any legislation until his concerns are addressed or sixty of his colleagues agree to override his objection.
That power, better know as the filibuster, is regularly asserted by Senators when they place a hold upon various bills. A hold is really a threat to filibuster. With up to six separate opportunities to filibuster any bill, a hold is a powerful tool to force the Senate to take due consideration of each and every Senator's concerns.
"It's difficult to work around a Senator. Ultimately, it's a cloture vote. It's very time-consuming, and you can't do that on most issues," Maryland Senator Ben Cardin told THE POLITICO newspaper.
Before the August recess, the Senate is expected to consider a proposal by Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) which would make the Senate more like the House of Representatives, where a one-vote majority is all that is needed to run roughshod over the interests of the minority.
Reid is cleverly disguising the impact of his idea by framing it as a means to undercut the already unpopular anti-spending hawk, Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK).
Coburn is not afraid to block legislation, even when his actions hit close to home. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), reports THE POLITICO, "still betrays some anger after being in Coburn's crosshairs a few months back over an earmark that Nelson was pushing for a Nebraska company which employed his son." The Alaska delegation still is smarting over Coburn's exposure of the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," its multibillion dollar raid on the Federal Treasury.
Reid plans a single up-or-down vote on a package of seventy or more spending proposals to which Dr. Coburn has objected. This massive bill, already nicknamed the "Coburn Omnibus," is a frontal assault on the rights of all Senators.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley gave the game away when he told THE POLITICO that Coburn is "exercising his rights as a Senator, but his approach is contrary to the traditions of collegiality and bipartisan compromise in the Senate. No wonder it's so hard to get things done when a handful of junior members insist on a their-way-or-the-highway approach to legislating."
Senator Reid has not exactly been a shrinking violet when it comes to "my-way-or-the-highway" legislating. Reid has spent years blocking efforts to store spent nuclear fuel rods in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, terming the proposal "the screw Nevada bill," before recently cutting the budget for this program by $108 million.
Manley has also said:
The idea that Senator Coburn is talking about the traditions of the Senate is ridiculous. Look what happened last time we did this. Senator Coburn held up action on dozens of bills for narrow, personal reasons, demanding debate and four amendments. These bills were held up for months; the Senate had to waste precious time to allow him to offer a few amendments. Each amendment failed by overwhelming bipartisan margins (63, 76, 67, 73 votes against), and the final bill passed 91-4 (Coburn, DeMint, Vitter and Inhofe being the only Nos). That is not debate and amendment; it is abuse, obstruction and delay.
Jim Manley, meet Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). Sanders has been insisting upon fast-track consideration of his bill to vastly increase taxpayer subsidies for heating oil, which is important to his New England State. Implicit in Sanders' demand is a threat to obstruct and delay other bills until his concerns are satisfied.
Given that polls suggest a bigger Democratic majority in the 2009 U.S. Senate, Reid's interest in curtailing the over two century-old power of Senate minorities to have their interests taken into account may be obvious.
Were Reid to have the unchecked powers of a latter-day Lyndon B. Johnson during a Democratic Administration, the leftist dream of another burst of Great Society-style legislation would be close to fruition: national health care, amnesty for illegal aliens, card-check unionization and every other plank of their agenda nearly would be unstoppable.
Yet it is hardly in the interest of leftist Senators like Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy (D-MA) or Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) to be reduced to rubber stamps for the latest ideas from the White House.
Should the Senate pass Reid's "Coburn Omnibus," it will be crossing a procedural Rubicon from which there is no turning back.