Some pundits are now asking why it was so hard for the Democrats to start the health care debate in the nail-biting vote yesterday where GOPers were solidly against letting the bill go up for discussion and the Demmies were solidly for it?
Political scientist Steven Taylor points to this piece in particular that asks the question. And Taylor — as usual — stands back and gives us his take on the issue, minus any talk show like rhetoric of the left and right. And it’s our political Quote of the Day:
However, what it is “telling” about is the nature of the Senate and the way that that rules have evolved over the last several decades. It is difficult to do business in the Senate, period. And the process of having have a debate and vote about where or not to have a debate and a vote is nothing new to Senate processes. Indeed, in the absence of unanimous consent agreement, it is the only practical way for major legislation to reach the floor. It other words: it is the kind of thing that is not a deviation from the norm but only seems like one because observers typically pay no attention to the process. I have written some about Senate procedures along these lines here and here, although there the process under discussion was judicial nominations more than general bills. In basic terms: bills are supposed to come off the calendar in the order in which they are placed on the calendar. This is an inconvenient way to do business, especially in terms of major legislation. As a result, a motion is needed to get the bill off the calendar and onto the floor. This is usually done for major legislation through a negotiated process between the majority and the minority leadership. However, the minority clearly did not want this bill on the floor, so a motion to proceed was needed and hence the debate. Indeed, one of the main reasons that controlling 60 seats in the chamber is a big deal is that it (theoretically, at least) gives the majority direct control of the calendar by providing enough votes for such motions without having to negotiate with the minority. Of course getting 60 votes even within the majority caucus is never a guarantee.
It is also “telling” about those making the observation (both York and “the source”) that they seem not to understand that, by definition, super-majorities are difficult to construct. Just because the Democrats have 60 seats does not mean that they have 60 automatic votes. The very nature of super-majority requirements is such that it empowers the minority and makes constructing the final vote a real challenge. It is difficult enough to cobble together a legislative majority in our system for major legislation, let alone for a 2/3rds vote (for any number of reasons, not the least of which being the regional variations in ideological perspectives around the country and the personalistic/candidate-centered nature of our elections).
And yes: this is major legislation not without any number of controversies associated with it. It would be shocking if there weren’t fights along the way, even within the Democratic caucus.
Taylor’s blog is required reading for political junkies. It’s reading a political scientist’s analysis on an issue versus reading something that sounds like you heard it on a right or left cable or radio talk show. It may not be the popular analysis to say, “Hey, just wait, take a deep breath and look at the actual facts” but with Taylor it’s always a classy analysis.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.