Senate Leaders Kill Patent Reform, Once again Thwarting Democracy to Protect Special Interests
by Hans Bader
Hundreds of moderate and conservative bills have passed the House of Representatives, often overwhelmingly, only to die in the Senate without even being voted on there. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) doesn’t want these bills to pass, because they contain provisions opposed by left-leaning special interest groups, like the trial lawyers. Letting them come to a vote would enable many of these bills to pass, given popular support for them.
Reid just did it again with patent reform, which passed the House, only to die in the Senate. Thanks to Reid, the trial lawyers and “patent trolls won in Congress,” laments a tech policy expert at Ars Technica. Without Reid’s approval, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) won’t even hold a vote on the bill, knowing it would likely pass the committee if he did. Nor will he consider a compromise replacement designed to attract Democratic support hammered out by Senators Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Cornyn (R-Texas), which added sweeteners to the bill to attract Democrat-leaning constituencies like universities.
Even the liberal New York Times editorial board, which has not endorsed a Republican for president since Dwight Eisenhower, supports the bill. But trial lawyers, a powerful special interest group who are a major force in the Democratic party, opposed the patent reform bill. Many House bills that supporters say would create jobs have never been allowed to come to a vote in the Senate.
Ironically, news of the death of patent reform came at the same time that President Obama, speaking at a partisan fundraiser, claimed that “the problem” in Washington, and the reason for legislative gridlock, “is not that the Democrats are overly ideological — because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side.”
Killing a GOP-sponsored bill with bipartisan support that would likely pass even the Democratic-controlled Senate if it were allowed to come to a vote is not a sign of Democratic leaders’ willingness “to compromise and reach out to the other side,” particularly given that the Obama administration claims to support patent reform and backs at least some of the ideas in the bill. It also belies Obama’s PR strategy of depicting Republicans as the “Party of No,” a theme constantly peddled by op-ed writers who regurgitate Obama administration talking points for a living, like The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent.
TechDirt, which is not a conservative blog, describes the politics behind Reid’s killing the bill:
Tuesday evening, I had a discussion with a friend who was working on patent reform efforts. I said that the reform effort was dead, but my friend insisted that it was being negotiated as we spoke, and that the folks working on it wouldn’t be doing so if it died. But, of course, by Wednesday morning it really was dead, and basically everyone who had been working hard on it pointed their finger at one person: Harry Reid. Within minutes of Leahy announcing that patent reform was dead, a whole bunch of people reached out to all say it was Reid’s fault. And, that story got out fast. Basically everyone is saying that Harry Reid called Leahy and told him to kill the bill after trial lawyers and the pharmaceutical industry complained to Reid. Reid, fearing a loss in donations from those groups that often support Democrats in an election year, killed the bill.
Most of the reports said that Reid told Leahy he wouldn’t allow the bill to come to the floor, but we heard a slightly different story: Reid didn’t want it to come to the floor, and if it passed out of the Senate Judiciary with strong bipartisan support, he would be forced to bring it to the floor. That’s why it was killed before it even had the chance, and Leahy had to pull it off the agenda without even allowing the Judiciary Committee to vote on it.
This is politics as usual. . .Unfortunately, if the same pattern holds, we may not see patent reform until 2021, by which time it too will likely be useless. And all the while actual innovation and our economy suffers.
As Ars Technica notes,
Reid told Leahy that even if his committee passed the bill, it would never make it to the Senate floor. . .There was a compromise draft, hashed out mainly by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John Cornyn (R-TX), that was expected to move forward and be marked up by the committee. Difficult compromises had been made in recent weeks, and the pro-reform side didn’t get everything it wanted. For instance, a carve-out was added for universities . . . ”The tech industry gave up a ton to try to make this thing work,” said the lobbyist who spoke to Ars.
In a piece entitled, “Putting Off Patent Reform,” The New York Times editorial board writes:
Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, on Wednesday indefinitely delayed a good bill that would have curbed abusive lawsuits brought by patent holders that hurt innovation and impose costs on technology users.
Mr. Leahy said he had to take the bill off his committee’s agenda because there was no agreement on what should be done to limit lawsuits. The measure would have protected small businesses from being sued for using technology like routers by holders of patents on similar products.
The Senate used to be called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Now, it’s more like a progress-killing dictatorship.
In November, one of my relatives was repeating the Obama administration party line (which is probably sent to him via mass email, due to his working on the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012), telling me once again that the Republicans were the “Party of No” and never did anything but say “no” to President Obama.
I pointed out to him that the GOP-controlled House had just passed a number of bills shortly before he spoke. For example, it passed H.R. 982, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act by a vote of 221-199. That bill sought to rein in rampant asbestos fraud identified by judges like George Hodges and Janice Graham Jack (who was appointed by President Clinton). It increases transparency within the asbestos trust system, by providing transparency and safeguards against duplicitous and/or conflicting claims. It also passed H.R. 2655, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA) of 2013, by a vote of 228-195. That bill requires courts to punish any attorney, law firm, or party that has provided false representations to the court and allows for the wronged party to be compensated. Neither of these sensible-sounding bills has ever been voted on by the Senate.
Sometimes, I wish the GOP really were the party of no. Many of the bills I have criticized in this very blog that were backed by the Obama administration (like bills to further expand federal power over education and local criminal matters, and pork-filled disaster relief bills) later passed both Houses of Congress, including the House of Representatives. That would not have happened if the GOP truly were the “Party of No,” or if the House Speaker was willing to keep these bills from simply coming to a vote. Neither party is a consistent supporter of limited government.
Hans Bader is a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he sues agencies over things like Freedom of Information Act violations. He used to work at the Center for Individual Rights bringing civil-rights and First Amendment cases. He graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in economics and history, and later earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School.
graphic via shutterstock.com