Opinion

Lesson on your government | Pirkle Report

With the new year ahead, it's time for a lesson on your government.

You may recall that the Senate just passed a bill for health care. You may also recall that this bill passed with 60 votes. Why is that?

The Senate was considered by the Founding Fathers to be a deliberative body where the great debates of the day would takes place. Accordingly, each senator can speak for an unlimited amount of time, whereas members of the House of Representatives are limited to a couple of minutes.

Furthermore, a senator who wishes to speak must be recognized and allowed to speak. So if you don't want a bill to pass, you can rise to speak and speak forever, preventing a vote from taking place. This is called a filibuster and has occurred many times in American history.

But if 60 senators vote for it, the filibuster can bet stopped, called cloture, and the bill can be brought up for a vote. This is why it took 60 votes to pass health care in the Senate.

But this 60 vote rule is a Senate rule and not set in the Constitution. So in effect, it takes 60 votes, not a simple majority, to pass anything in the Senate. This 60 vote requirement is called a super majority and occurs seven times in the Constitution. For example, it takes 67 votes to override a presidential veto and it takes 67 votes to amend the Constitution. Furthermore, three-fourths of the states had to vote for the Constitution for it to have been adopted.

But strangely, any Senate rule can be changed by a 51 vote majority of senators. So why don't the Democrats, who easily have 51 votes, simply change the rule to require only 51 votes to stop a filibuster? This is called the "nuclear option" and a few years ago when the Republicans controlled the Senate, that was tried. The night before the vote was to take place, Senator John McCain got seven Republicans and seven Democrats to agree not to vote for it — and it failed.

It's called the nuclear option because it would fundamentally change the way the Senate works and would make a lot of people angry. In fact, it's considered cheating and used only out of desperation.

But the health care bill is now in a conference committee to work out the differences with the House bill. Many fear that if there are substantial changes to the bill in conference, it will not pass the Senate again. Indeed, when they passed it the first time, the Democrats gave $300 million to Louisiana to get that senator's vote, suspended Medicaid payments for Nebraska to get that senator's vote, and did something similar for Michigan to get that vote.

The public is furious with what is called "vote buying" to get votes, yet this is defended by the Democrats as the way it has always been. This is true, but it's usually over a few million dollars for a pet project, and not at this level.

They also made a deal with the drug companies not to allow the importing of cheaper drugs from Canada to get their support.

The overwhelming majority of the public is against this health care bill as every poll shows, yet the Congress presses on. They seem to think that they know what is better for the public than the public does. This is the typical attitude of big government.

Now the question: If the bill out of conference cannot get 60 votes in the Senate, will the Democrats go for the nuclear option so that only 51 votes are required to pass it? They easily have 51 votes.

How important is it for them to pass this bill? How desperate are they? How far are they willing to go? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

If they want to look completely ridiculous and make a complete joke of the American government, they can always change the cloture rule to require 51 votes, pass health care, then change the cloture rule back to 60 votes, all in a matter of hours. If that happens during the Super Bowl, nobody will even notice.

I think they will do this, if necessary, to pass this bill, that most people do not even want.

Stay tuned. You are about to get a good lesson on your government.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Nov 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates