"A Republic, if you can keep it." That’s how Benjamin Franklin responded when questioned about the type of government he helped create during the Constitutional Convention.
"A monarchy, if you will allow it." That’s how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would respond if he answered honestly what type of government he would like. For the last two years, Reid has run the Senate as a monarchy, and only a palace coup, initiated by the voters of Nevada, appears likely to end it. Senate Republicans might provide the Nevada voters with an assist, but their measure of success will depend upon their willingness to defend the rights of the minority. Lately, that will has not evidenced itself.
The Senate Rules make clear that legislation should be subject to debate and amendment. These two are essential rights provided to the minority, unless Reid is the majority leader. During the 110th Congress, Reid filed a record 137 cloture petitions, effectively abrogating the ability to debate. A number of times, Reid filed cloture on legislation the same day it was made available to Republicans; these cloture petitions occurred before some senators had an opportunity to read the legislative language.
Reid has not been satisfied by simply cutting off debate. Eighteen times over the last two years, he has used a procedural stunt to prohibit Republicans from offering amendments. Indeed, excluding budget votes, there have been only 3 more amendment votes than cloture votes in 2008 (50 to 47). That’s how monarchies operate, not a Republic.
If Reid were, as he advertises, “independent like Nevada” he would allow the Senate to engage in substantive debate and provide Republicans an opportunity to offer amendments, so that the American people could hear views from both sides of the aisle. Senator Reid has only demonstrated partisanship. For instance, Senator Reid filed cloture on the DREAM Act. It’s a valid name if you’re an illegal alien seeking to pay in-state tuition at a state college, while many Americans pay out-of-state tuition. Even some of Reid’s Democrat subjects chafed at his tactics on this bill.
In another political power play, Reid rejected substantive debate and the ability to amend his so-called Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which would not have produced energy, independence or security. Instead, experts predicted the bill would have led to more taxes, lawsuits and burdensome regulations. Reid simply refused even to acknowledge amendments that would have delivered the message that America cannot tax, sue, and regulate its way to lower energy prices.
Although Senate Republicans might appreciate this expose of Reid’s tactics, I hope, especially after the recent elections, they have a greater appreciation of their failures. When Reid has allowed his 99 subjects to offer amendments, Republicans have often capitulated to a 60 instead of a 51 vote hurdle for passage. Instead of revolting and insisting that the Senate Rules operate normally, Republicans have given Reid their unanimous consent to operate his monarchy.
Reid has announced his intent to thumb his nose at the Republic again during the lame duck and have his subjects pass the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2008. In addition to spending over $4 billion, Reid plans to make 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and a minimum 300 million barrels of oil off limits for exploration and use. He, of course, plans for this to happen without debate or amendments. Reid would rather not explain to the American people why they should pay $3.5 million for a birthday party they’re not invited to in St. Augustine, Fla. (one of the measures included in his proposed omnibus lands legislation). That’s not how monarchies operate.
Reid is up for re-election in 2010. Republicans have two years to right the ship, but I’m placing my confidence in the Nevada voters. Unlike many in the Republican Party, I’m sure they understand involuntary abdication.