Senate Seat

January 20, 2010

Yesterday, the seat in the United States Senate that was once owned by Ted Kennedy was won by a Republican. As a result, the Democrat Caucus now has only 59 members (which includes two independents), with the Republican Conference having 41. Due to some archaic parliamentary rule that people convince themselves to support when it is beneficial to them, major action in the Senate requires 60 votes.

Of course, this is a major issue for Democrats, who are looking to pass an overhaul to this country's health care system. No Senate Republicans have thus far supported the Democrat's heath care bill, and as a result, the Democrats don't have 60 votes to block a potential filibuster. However, both houses of congress have already passed different versions of a health care bill. Currently, these bills are being reconciled and merged together. Before they can be signed by the President, they emerging bill will have to be sent back to the House and the Senate. This is where a Republican filibuster can kill the bill.

So, here's my plan. This situation brings up a very interesting political opportunity, regardless of whether one supports the health care bill or not. Here's what I would do if I were a Democrat determined to have health care pass:

Have the congressmen in the House pass the Senate version of the bill. Since it was already voted on by the Senate, the threat of the filibuster is meaningless. Don't make any changes, just pass it and send it to the President's desk. Have Obama take the bill and put it in a desk drawer. At the same time, continue the reconciliation between the Senate and House bill. Now, one of two things will happen. Either a new version of the bill will come out of the House and Senate and will be signed by the President or, if congressmen fail to make a better bill in time, Obama will simply sign the bill waiting in his desk (technically, he doesn't have to sign the bill at all, if he simply ignores it, it will automatically become a law as long as congress is still in session). The goal is to improve on the Senate bill and make a better version than the one sitting in Obama's desk. Here's the key: the Democrats have a bill waiting to be signed by the President, so health care will pass no matter what. Therefore, an attempt by the Republicans to filibuster the reconciled bill will be meaningless.

There's a small caveat: after the first Senate bill is signed by the house, it will become a law in 10 days unless vetoed by the President (actually, it can be 11 days if the 10th day is a Sunday). So congress will have to work fast to reconcile two versions of the bill before only the Senate version becomes law. But it will be in the interest of both sides to work together and work fast. Republicans will be forced to be constructive members of the process because their only concern would be to make the bill better than the Senate version waiting for Obama.

I don't know enough about politics to determine whether or not it's politically feasible. But I thought it was an interesting political ploy, a clever way to twist the odd parliamentary rules of the US Congress.