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The Senate Goes Nuclear

I have two major observations about the drama went down in the Senate last night.

First of all, Democrats don't have much room to complain about political gamesmanship. Obama started this whole childish back-and-forth when he made "Congress should pass this bill right away" the chorus of his Jobs Speech. He knew full well that the line would make Republicans look bad in their inevitable opposition, which is why he hit on it so many times.

That strategy backfired big time. Reid has so far embarrassingly failed to raise the support necessary to pass the measure in the Senate -- the only chamber Democrats control. Republicans responded last night with a tongue-and-cheek offer to amend the bill into unrelated legislation.

Admittedly, their proposal was ridiculous. Amending the Jobs Bill into a bipartisan proposal to deal with Chinese currency manipulation? Doing so via a "motion to suspend the rules," which essentially allows a party to circumvent the post-cloture ban on irrelevant amendments? Republicans obviously had no intention of being the bigger man in the chamber.

But neither was Harry Reid about to let his Democrats suffer the indignity of lying on the bed they made for themselves. God forbid his Senators have to put their names on the record as, kind-of-sort-of-if-you-squint, against the Jobs Bill. He responded with the Senate equivalent of bringing a gun to a knife fight. He challenged the motion as improper. As quickly as that, a decades-old procedural rule disappeared.

Having said all this, the inevitable onslaught of righteous indignation from Republicans and the exaggerated shock of media outlets is going to be highly unwarranted. This rule change is utterly insignificant.

The way the Senate debates, amends, and passes a bill goes something like this:

When the bill is brought to the floor and debate opens, each Senator is given the opportunity to speak about it. Amendments can be proposed and voted on. Senators who are particularly disturbed by the proposed legislation can choose to filibuster.

In many cases, debate ends via a motion to limit debate, which must be unanimous. Lately, however, debate has ended almost exclusively via a motion for cloture. This latter motion allows a majority of Senators to overcome a filibuster. It requires the votes of 60 members.

Following the success of such a motion, further debate is limited to 30 additional hours. Moreover, only "germane" amendments (that is, those strictly relevant to the pending legislation) may be raised or discussed.

However, there is one way around the germane amendments rule. A group of Senators can make a "motion to suspend the rules." A two-thirds vote is required for the motion to be approved. If that event, non-germane amendments (like the entire Jobs Bill) can be proposed and voted on.

Of course, such a motion never succeeds (or at least, it hasn't since 1941). In a chamber comprised of 100 members, it would be beyond polar for 68 members to vote to re-open debate immediately after 60 members voted to close it.

For this reason, don't believe anything you hear about Democrats destroying Democracy or hijacking our political system. The only thing Reid's rule change implicates is the right of the minority to embarrass the majority. Which is something they can do without abusing the system and wasting American time/money.

The conclusion? Democrats: 0, Republicans: 0, America: -1,000,000.
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