Around the State
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is considering canceling the results of the November elections by changing the Senate rules when senators conduct their opening day procedures Wednesday.
The change in the Senate rules will be used in an effort to reduce the number of senators needed to invoke cloture (limit debate). The cloture rule, Rule 22, requires 60 votes to limit debate in the Senate. Efforts in the Senate Rules Committee last year, led by Sen. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Udall, D-Colo., are pushing the Senate leader to end more than 200 years of tradition and set a precedent by declaring that the Senate is NOT a continuous body.
If the Senate is deemed not a continuous body, then it stands to reason that the Senate rules would need to be ratified every two years when the new Congress convenes on opening day. If Sen. Reid is successful making the case that the Senate is not a continuous body, and thereby needs to ratify the rules at the beginning of the Congress, then the rules governing the new Congress could be put in place by a simple majority vote and not the supermajority vote of 67 now needed under the “Standing Rules of the Senate.”
If you read the Senate's own "Standing Rules," specifically Rule V, it clearly states: "The rules of the Senate shall continue from one Congress to the next Congress unless they are changed as provided in these rules.” Also, the Senate's own website affirms that the Senate is a continuous body when the Senate site states:
“The Senate's three-class system was established by the Constitution that has been in operation since 1789. Every two years, one-third of the members of the Senate are elected/re-elected, leaving the other two-thirds of the members to carry on business. Never is there a total turnover of members. (In the House of Representatives, on the other hand, the entire membership is elected/re-elected every two years.) When the framers set up this system of election -- dividing the Senate into three "classes" for election purposes -- they had in mind that the business of the Senate would continue from Congress to Congress without interruption.”
Meanwhile, on the House side of the U.S. Capitol, the opening day procedures will be basically routine with the swearing-in of the entire House membership being first on the list. The leaders of the new Congress will be formally elected by various resolutions and other housekeeping resolutions will be considered, all designed to organize and operate the House for the coming Congress.
The House is also expected to introduce HR 1. This first bill to be introduced in the new Congress will repeal the Obama health care law. It is the intention of Speaker Boehner to have this bill pass the House prior to the yet-to-be-scheduled State of the Union address. Typically, the president delivers his address to Congress and the nation during the third week in January.
On Thursday, the House chamber is expected to read the entire U.S. Constitution. This is designed in part to be symbolic but also to prove that the new members of Congress will take their role, outlined in our Constitution, very seriously.
Back on the Senate side, if the Senate majority leader does turn the Senate on its head by changing the Senate rules and creating bedlam, then the Senate's routine housekeeping resolutions and organization matters will be in jeopardy. The Senate GOP has threatened to retaliate in any way possible in order to keep the Senate rules and traditions intact for the 112th Congress.
The special election of Scott Brown (R-Mass.) back in early 2010 is a perfect example of how the Reid rules change would disenfranchise the American electorate. Remember, Senate candidate Brown focused much of his campaign on being the GOP’s 41st vote in the Senate. The significance of being the 41st GOP vote was to essentially deny Sen. Reid the 60th vote needed to end a filibuster on Obama health care. That filibuster-cloture rule is the law of the Senate until changed by a supermajority of senators or by unanimous agreement.
The cloture rule, Rule 22, is just one of 44 rules contained in the “Standing Rules of the Senate.” Hmm ... an interesting use of the word “Standing” in the title of the Senate rule book.
If Sen. Reid uses his majority of Democratic senators to change the Senate rules by a simple majority vote, this blatant abuse of power should be a major campaign issue when the 23 Democratic senators are up for election in 2012. If these 23 Democratic senators will vote to destroy over 200 years of Senate tradition all for their agenda achievements, where will this abuse of power end?
Stay tuned to see if the Senate Democratic leader will ruin over 200 years of Senate procedure when the Senate opens the 112th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 5. If this happens, the American people may just have to develop very long memories.
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of GradeGov.com