November 18, 2002
YOU CAN PROBABLY REMOVE THE WORD "FILIBUSTER" IN THIS HEADLINE:Democratic Filibuster Hope Fades (DAVID E. ROSENBAUM, November 18, 2002, NY Times)
The question of what can be passed by the Senate by a simple majority and what requires a super majority of 60 votes revolves around rules so arcane that few lawmakers have mastered them.
Boiled down to their essence, here is how the rules work: Every year, Congress is supposed to approve a big budget measure called a reconciliation bill. (Why it is called this and why there is no such bill this year are another story.)
Congressional leaders can fold into the reconciliation bill almost any measures involving revenues or involving spending increases or decreases for entitlement programs, programs like Social Security and Medicare under which government benefits are paid automatically to everyone eligible.
Reconciliation bills and their components cannot be filibustered. They can be passed in the Senate by as few as 50 votes and the tie-breaking vote of the vice president. This is how President Bill Clinton's tax increase was approved in 1993. President Bush's tax cuts were adopted last year in a reconciliation bill.
The main constraint to putting the kitchen sink — say, allowing school vouchers or outlawing abortion — into a reconciliation bill is the Byrd Rule, named after the Senate's chief parliamentary scold, Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia. Under this rule, measures cannot be included in the Senate reconciliation package if they do not have revenues or entitlement components or if such components are "merely incidental" to a broader policy question. It takes 60 votes in the Senate to waive the Byrd Rule.
If the GOP can get stuff like ANWAR drilling, permanentizing the tax cuts, etc. through with a simple majority we won't be reading many more lint-picking stories about how the President would be better served had the Democrats retained the Senate. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2002 10:17 AM