So You Want to Debate, Huh?
John Dingell, the longest serving member of Congress in the history of the country, famously said, “If you let me write the procedure, and I let you write the substance, I’ll screw you every time.” This time, the Gang of Eight wrote the substance and is dictating the procedure.
Earlier this week, many saw the following Reuters’ headline: Immigration bill clears early test vote.
What was this so-called test vote?
In Senate parlance is was the Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to S. 744, which is the Gang of Eight’s amnesty bill. What does that mean in non-Washington language? Reuters described it as “a procedural roadblock that opponents regularly use to delay or even kill legislation.”
Put another way, agreeing to the motion essentially allows debate on the bill to begin (and yes, that aforementioned vote did require 60 votes). But debates are weird in Washington. That is especially true in the U.S. Senate, which used to be known as the world’s greatest deliberative body.
Conservatives, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and David Vitter (R-LA), opposed the Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to S. 744. They understand, as does Heritage Action, that the Gang of Eight’s amnesty bill is flawed beyond repair.
Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) explained his floor strategy on Univision’s Al Punto:
“If people have suggestions like they did in the Judiciary Committee to change the bill a little bit, I’ll be happy to take a look at that. But we’re not going tohave big changes.” (emphasis added)
That’s right, no big changes to a bill drafted behind closed doors by eight Senators and an unknown number of special interest groups. As Katherine Rosario points out, the debate was stifled in the 18-person Judiciary Committee:
During the committee markup, many Senators were more concerned with getting a bill passed just for the sake of getting something done than for the sake of enacting good policy. A number of Senators expressed the desire to avoid any amendment to the Gang of Eight’s amnesty bill that would jeopardize its chances of being passed. … [O]pposition to the amendments was driven by the belief that they could jeopardize the “compromise” that the Senate had already come to.
She concluded, “Just because a so-called ‘compromise’ had been reached (behind closed doors no less), these Senators gave short shrift to the deliberative process.” Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening.
In May, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticized Reid and accused him of “blowing up” the Senate:
What I fear is the majority leader is working his way toward breaking his word to the Senate and to the American people, and blowing up this institution, and making it extremely difficult for us to operate on the collegial basis we’ve operated on for over 200 years. He wants to have no debate. Do what I say, and do it now. This is the culture of intimidation that we’ve seen at the IRS, that we’ve seen at HHS, at the FEC, at the SEC. And now here in the Senate. Do what I say when I say it. Sit down, shut up.
Sit down, and shut up. That is what pro-amnesty Senators are telling those of us opposed to amnesty.