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Helpful Advice from the Reality-Based Community

From the People Who Brought You Magical Unicorns

I want to recommend a strategy for Senate Democrats. They ought to stop playing around, and lay down the law to the Republicans. No more Mr. Nice Guy:

The administration should use its supposed vaunted community organizing to build public pressure for its version of the stimulus, and then Obama, Pelosi, and Reid should hold a press conference where they say:

1) The only reason why the bill has not passed and Americans have not gotten economic relief is because of the Republican Party. And the only reason why the Republican Party has been able to obstruct is because of the filibuster (more accurately, Senate rules, but close enough.).

2) If the stimulus does not pass now, any future economic pain is solely the responsibility of the Republican Party. Any American who finds herself out of work, without medical care, etc. etc. can lay blame completely at the doorstep of the GOP.

3) Budget bills cannot be filibustered.

4) Thus, our intention is to pull the stimulus package now and resubmit it as part of the budget process. We will resubmit this budget with Democratic priorities and Democratic principles, and it will reinforce the goals that President Obama advocated during the campaign and for which the country gave him a mandate.

5) It will pass in that form.

6) To be sure, it will be much better to have a package now, but we will not compromise on what the American people voted for last November. And as we said, the public knows quite clearly upon whom the blame should land.

7) Negotiations are over. Take it or leave it.

Now I have to be honest. I’m endorsing this idea because I think it’s pretty clear that the American public is unhappy with this bill and will grow to hate it as they learn more about it. They will resent the Democratic leaders who foisted it on them, particularly once the Obama administration unveils the multi-trillion TARP II bailout bill in a few days. Further, this will turn all attention to the Senate, and put Harry Reid front and center. And as a conservative, I know that’s good for me. Furthermore, Reid will have to twist arms to overcome the filibuster that he and Obama precipitate when they suddenly stop negotiations. That means every Red State Democrat will be forced to vote yes. And that’s good for conservatives at the next election.

I also need to be honest and tell you that this won’t happen — because Senate Democrats know how the Congressional Budget Process works — while the original author of this piece seems to know nothing about it. I suspect that the person who originally wrote this once heard someone say ‘budget bills can’t be filibustered,’ and decided that everything he liked could be magically called a budget bill. He didn’t realize that Congress actually wrote rules for this process, to prevent precisely this type of abuse:

Reconciliation Instructions: The process begins with the inclusion of reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution. These instructions require authorizing committees with jurisdiction over mandatory spending and revenue policies [note -- appropriations bills cannot be included in the reconciliation process -- bf] (usually more than one) to make legislative changes in those programs to effect a specified level of budgetary savings provisions…

Budget Committees’ Role: Once the relevant authorizing committees have reported their legislation to the Budget Committees, it is the Budget Committees’ responsibility to combine those bills into an omnibus package (or packages) as specified by the budget resolution…

House and Senate Floor Consideration: The Budget Act specifies that Congressional Action on reconciliation legislation should be completed by June 15. It provides specific expedited procedures and restrictions for floor consideration of reconciliation measures, to ensure timely completion…

In the Senate, total debate on a reconciliation bill is limited to 20 hours, although the actual time for consideration of the omnibus package often exceeds this time limit set in the Budget Act. Motions and amendments may be offered and considered without debate at the end of this time period. There are also restrictions on the content of a reconciliation package and on the amendments which may be offered to it. For example, any amendment to the bill that is not germane, would add extraneous material, would cause deficit levels to increase, or that contains recommendations with respect to the Social Security program, is not in order. The Budget Act also maintains that reconciliation provisions must be related to reconciling the budget. For example, section 313 of the Budget Act, more commonly known as the “Byrd Rule”, provides a point of order in the Senate against extraneous matter in reconciliation bills. Determining what is extraneous is often a procedural and political quagmire navigated in part by the Senate Parliamentarian. The Byrd Rule and other points of order in the Budget Act may only be waived in the Senate by a three-fifths vote. Furthermore, the Budget Act prevents reconciliation legislation from being filibustered on the Senate floor.

If you’ve made it this far, you see that the rules for crafting a ‘budget bill’ immune from filibuster are pretty exacting. It must be pursuant to a budget resolution adopted by both Houses, it must consist of changes to entitlement programs, it cannot include appropriations bills, and there are rules to prevent extraneous provisions from being included. It also takes months to accomplish. In fact, this suggestion is not only politically foolish, it reflects no understanding at all of the rules of the Senate and the budget process.

However, the ‘reality-based community’ recommends it, and we can only hope the Democrats try it.

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