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Filibustering And The Senate’s Dysfunction

The Senate, which was supposed to pass an omnibus bill including an extension of uninsurance benefits, an extension of COBRA benefits, and (not incidentally) yet another temporary patch on the 21% cuts in Medicare physician reimbursement, failed to do so on Friday before it adjourned early for the weekend. At least that’s the top-line headline, and most people never read further than that when it comes to wonky policy/process articles like this.

The real reason that the bill is stalled (and that the cuts which are deadlined at 2/28 will go into effect) is, as they say, the Gentlman from Kentucky, Senator Jim Bunning.

Bunning, it seems, had mounted a quixotic mini-filibuster of the extension. He wants some (I’m not sure which) of the various extensions to be funded out out of the stimulus monies, which would mean that projects for which that money had been budgeted will have to be canceled. According to reports, he rejected to having this put up for a vote, knowing that he didn’t have the votes to support it, and chose instead to just obstruct out of pique. It’s important to note that Bunning does not have, it seems, the support of Republican leadership in this, and he knows full well that Reid will just push this through to a vote which will pass the extension as it was written. So it’s a futile, meaningless gesture, assuming that the entire GOP caucus doesn’t rally behind him, which seems unlikely. The Democrats forced Bunning to stage a mini-filibuster, which angered him to the point that he cursed at fellow senators on the floor and whined that this was making him miss a basketball game.

“Let them eat cake”?

In the end, this is not going to prevent the extension of the Medicare patch — or uninsurance benefits and COBRA benefits, something of great importance to those suffering in this recession. The rules allow Reid to file for a vote after a certain time frame, and the only reason this is news at all is because it was a last-minute vote and apparently Bunning blindsided Reid with his procedural hijinks.

But it’s a great example of the many ways that the Senate is deeply dysfunctional and subject to being held hostage by a determined minority — even when it is a minority of one. Will this add fuel to the drive for reform of the filibuster? Possibly. But it’s a great example of why reform wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*


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