Coburn’s parliamentary maneuver

More local color from Dana Milbank:

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) . . .went to the Senate floor just before noon Wednesday and asked Democrats to agree to an amendment to the health-care bill that "would certify that every member of the Senate has read the bill and understands it before they vote on the bill."

Understands it? Would there be a quiz? Would the exam be scored by the Congressional Budget Office? When Democrats understandably rejected this idea, Coburn responded with a parliamentary maneuver that stopped all action on the floor until the Senate clerk could read aloud every word of a 767-page amendment offered by [Sen. Bernie] Sanders [I-Vt].

"For purposes of section 1101(a)(5)(c)," read the clerk, "individuals described in this subsection are the following individuals . . ."

Sanders, purple in the face, beckoned furiously at Coburn, who smiled, winked and attended to his BlackBerry. “How long will it take?” Sanders asked a member of the floor staff.

She eyed the five-inch-tall printout of the amendment. “I don’t know — eight hours?” she answered.

One hundred thirty-nine pages and nearly three hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) surrendered. He waved Sanders into the cloakroom. A few minutes later, Sanders emerged on the Senate floor and withdrew his amendment calling for government-run health care.

“This is nothing more than an ongoing stalling tactic on the part of the Republicans,” Sanders complained of Coburn’s stunt.

Sanders’s complaint carried some irony, because he delivered it at a news conference he had called to explain why he had put a “hold,” or a delay of his own, on Obama’s renomination of Bernanke.

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About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • ELB

    And Sanders interruption and withdrawal of his amendment was in violation of senate rules. The president of the Senate and the majority didn’t care. From the constitution to the rules of the senate, nothing will stand in their way.

  • ELB

    And Sanders interruption and withdrawal of his amendment was in violation of senate rules. The president of the Senate and the majority didn’t care. From the constitution to the rules of the senate, nothing will stand in their way.

  • Joe

    I don’t normally like Sen. Snow’s view of the world but she had a pretty insightful comment the other day. She said (paraphrasing):

    If this bill does not take effect until 2014 why is it so necessary that we vote before Christmas?

  • Joe

    I don’t normally like Sen. Snow’s view of the world but she had a pretty insightful comment the other day. She said (paraphrasing):

    If this bill does not take effect until 2014 why is it so necessary that we vote before Christmas?

  • http://joshschroeder.blogspot.com/ Josh Schroeder

    “This is nothing more than an ongoing stalling tactic on the part of the Republicans,” Sanders complained of Coburn’s stunt.

    Quite the contrary, Senator Sanders. There may be no better way to make this bill understood than to have things read out loud in their entirety on C-SPAN.

    A parliamentary move that has bills and amendments read out loud might be the best form of sunshine, which in politics is one of the best forms of disinfectant.

    If you don’t want your legislation read aloud, don’t write it!

  • http://joshschroeder.blogspot.com/ Josh Schroeder

    “This is nothing more than an ongoing stalling tactic on the part of the Republicans,” Sanders complained of Coburn’s stunt.

    Quite the contrary, Senator Sanders. There may be no better way to make this bill understood than to have things read out loud in their entirety on C-SPAN.

    A parliamentary move that has bills and amendments read out loud might be the best form of sunshine, which in politics is one of the best forms of disinfectant.

    If you don’t want your legislation read aloud, don’t write it!

  • J

    Coburn’s a legislative farce; according to reports, his real talent seems to involve facilitating the cover up of Senator Ensign’s affair with a staffer’s wife, which included a pay off from Ensign’s parents. Keeping it all in The Family, if you will.
    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/07/21/c_street/

  • J

    Coburn’s a legislative farce; according to reports, his real talent seems to involve facilitating the cover up of Senator Ensign’s affair with a staffer’s wife, which included a pay off from Ensign’s parents. Keeping it all in The Family, if you will.
    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/07/21/c_street/

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Uh, J, I think Coburn has done more than this. His big reputation–and reason that so many people hate him–is that he consistently opposes the attachment of earmarks (that is, money for Congressmen to spend in their districts) to unrelated bills. Do you believe in that? Do you have an objection to bills getting read before the legislators vote on them?

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Uh, J, I think Coburn has done more than this. His big reputation–and reason that so many people hate him–is that he consistently opposes the attachment of earmarks (that is, money for Congressmen to spend in their districts) to unrelated bills. Do you believe in that? Do you have an objection to bills getting read before the legislators vote on them?

  • DonS

    The Republicans asked for the simple courtesy of a 72 hour publication period for any amendment before a vote was taken. The Democratic leadership absolutely refused to accommodate this reasonable request, leading to Coburn’s action.

    The last schedule I saw called for a final Senate vote, at the earliest, on Christmas Eve. As Senator Snow said, why the rush?

    Democrats used every parliamentary trick in the book to stymie Republican action in the Senate when they were in charge, including the unprecedented routine threats to filibuster judicial nominations. They can hardly be surprised when the favor is returned.

  • DonS

    The Republicans asked for the simple courtesy of a 72 hour publication period for any amendment before a vote was taken. The Democratic leadership absolutely refused to accommodate this reasonable request, leading to Coburn’s action.

    The last schedule I saw called for a final Senate vote, at the earliest, on Christmas Eve. As Senator Snow said, why the rush?

    Democrats used every parliamentary trick in the book to stymie Republican action in the Senate when they were in charge, including the unprecedented routine threats to filibuster judicial nominations. They can hardly be surprised when the favor is returned.

  • J

    Veith, it’s plain that Coburn’s point was to stop debate on the health care bill. No one but the most credulous believes he wanted Sanders’ amendment read for the enlightenment of any listener. If you oppose the health care bill, go ahead and applaud his stunt, but praise it as a cheap, in in-your-face stunt, like DonS does, not as the mature decison of a Christian statesman.
    By the way, about 120 Americans die each day for lack of health insurance. Coburn’s stunt ensured another day of misery for lots of our fellow citizens. Why are always the very worst of our elected officials – those who care the least for the poor but the most for the rich – the most vocal “Christians”? Who is their Christ?

  • J

    Veith, it’s plain that Coburn’s point was to stop debate on the health care bill. No one but the most credulous believes he wanted Sanders’ amendment read for the enlightenment of any listener. If you oppose the health care bill, go ahead and applaud his stunt, but praise it as a cheap, in in-your-face stunt, like DonS does, not as the mature decison of a Christian statesman.
    By the way, about 120 Americans die each day for lack of health insurance. Coburn’s stunt ensured another day of misery for lots of our fellow citizens. Why are always the very worst of our elected officials – those who care the least for the poor but the most for the rich – the most vocal “Christians”? Who is their Christ?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hard to tell if it’s just the way it’s written, but I think it’s hilarious. I don’t really get the parliamentary procedure involved, or why the amendment was withdrawn because of it, but it’s funny, anyhow. I see no reason for things to have to move so quickly.

    I do wish Coburn’s amendment had passed. And that it actually would have involved a quiz. Everyone getting a 70% or higher gets their vote counted.

    That said, we all know that we can’t trust this story at all, coming as it does from the liberally biased mainstream media. Milbank is one of the worst. Why, I’ll bet there isn’t even a Senator Coburn!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hard to tell if it’s just the way it’s written, but I think it’s hilarious. I don’t really get the parliamentary procedure involved, or why the amendment was withdrawn because of it, but it’s funny, anyhow. I see no reason for things to have to move so quickly.

    I do wish Coburn’s amendment had passed. And that it actually would have involved a quiz. Everyone getting a 70% or higher gets their vote counted.

    That said, we all know that we can’t trust this story at all, coming as it does from the liberally biased mainstream media. Milbank is one of the worst. Why, I’ll bet there isn’t even a Senator Coburn!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    J (@7), while I’ll admit to knowing precious little about the details of the health care bill, I have to wonder if you know even less. “Coburn’s stunt ensured another day of misery for lots of our fellow citizens.” What? These bills aren’t scheduled to have a major impact, if any, until 2013 or beyond. How does another day of debating push that out?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    J (@7), while I’ll admit to knowing precious little about the details of the health care bill, I have to wonder if you know even less. “Coburn’s stunt ensured another day of misery for lots of our fellow citizens.” What? These bills aren’t scheduled to have a major impact, if any, until 2013 or beyond. How does another day of debating push that out?

  • DonS

    J @ 7: You’re right. Coburn didn’t want the amendment read. What he wanted was three days to review it before a vote was taken. The reading was the only remaining option to gain that time when the Democrats denied what was a perfectly reasonable request.

    tODD’s point about the potential harm to uninsured folks is well taken, as it is true that the coverage provisions of the bill don’t take effect for some four years. Using your figures, that will result in 175,000 extra American deaths because of the delay in implementation of the bill. But, the real bottom line is that we only have so much money. The burgeoning national debt will cause far more deaths in the future because of the resulting economic dislocations and poverty. So, we need to take the proper time to ensure that whatever we do is the best way to get the most return for the limited dollars we have.

  • DonS

    J @ 7: You’re right. Coburn didn’t want the amendment read. What he wanted was three days to review it before a vote was taken. The reading was the only remaining option to gain that time when the Democrats denied what was a perfectly reasonable request.

    tODD’s point about the potential harm to uninsured folks is well taken, as it is true that the coverage provisions of the bill don’t take effect for some four years. Using your figures, that will result in 175,000 extra American deaths because of the delay in implementation of the bill. But, the real bottom line is that we only have so much money. The burgeoning national debt will cause far more deaths in the future because of the resulting economic dislocations and poverty. So, we need to take the proper time to ensure that whatever we do is the best way to get the most return for the limited dollars we have.

  • J

    tODD, whether it takes effect years from now or not is unclear; the Medicare buy-in, which was briefly agreed to, would have begun as early as next year. What the House and Senate eventually agree to, if anything, is still uncertain.
    Nonetheles, note that the GOP wants to kill the bill in its entirety, not in order to improve it, but to stop health care reform in its tracks altogether. That’s what is motivating Coburn’s delay tactic, and which will cause some Americans to die without health coverage.

    DonS, your alleged concern about the national debt is weird and sad. If you want to play the Christian here, put the needs of your neighbor over dollar bills.

  • J

    tODD, whether it takes effect years from now or not is unclear; the Medicare buy-in, which was briefly agreed to, would have begun as early as next year. What the House and Senate eventually agree to, if anything, is still uncertain.
    Nonetheles, note that the GOP wants to kill the bill in its entirety, not in order to improve it, but to stop health care reform in its tracks altogether. That’s what is motivating Coburn’s delay tactic, and which will cause some Americans to die without health coverage.

    DonS, your alleged concern about the national debt is weird and sad. If you want to play the Christian here, put the needs of your neighbor over dollar bills.

  • DonS

    J: To the contrary, the coverage portions of the bill clearly take effect years from now, both in the House and Senate versions. The new taxes, on the other hand, take effect next year. The purpose in delaying coverage while accelerating taxes was to help the bill “score” better when the CBO evaluated its costs for the first decade. The MediCare buy-in was never adequately considered. It was an urgent throw-in to try to get some Democrats opposed to an explicit public option to buy into the bill. But when the numbers were crunched, it made no sense at all, so was dropped.

    “Weird and sad”. So, J, you do realize that sooner or later the national debt will become so large that we will cease having the ability to service it, let alone pay it down? And, at that time, government will no longer have the ability to provide public services at nearly the level it does now, nor to meet even a fraction of the entitlements it is committed to? What of our future neighbors, J? Those who will be stuck with the incredible debts and obligations we are selfishly heaping on them?

  • DonS

    J: To the contrary, the coverage portions of the bill clearly take effect years from now, both in the House and Senate versions. The new taxes, on the other hand, take effect next year. The purpose in delaying coverage while accelerating taxes was to help the bill “score” better when the CBO evaluated its costs for the first decade. The MediCare buy-in was never adequately considered. It was an urgent throw-in to try to get some Democrats opposed to an explicit public option to buy into the bill. But when the numbers were crunched, it made no sense at all, so was dropped.

    “Weird and sad”. So, J, you do realize that sooner or later the national debt will become so large that we will cease having the ability to service it, let alone pay it down? And, at that time, government will no longer have the ability to provide public services at nearly the level it does now, nor to meet even a fraction of the entitlements it is committed to? What of our future neighbors, J? Those who will be stuck with the incredible debts and obligations we are selfishly heaping on them?

  • Joe

    “but to stop health care reform in its tracks altogether.”

    J – This is a completely wrong statement. The GOP does not want to stop health care reform – in fact they have offered alternative plans in the house. Paul Ryan and others offered bills that contained fundamental reforms of the insurance industry and the nature of how health care is regulated. And, no it was not just deregulation for the sake of deregulation. So please stop repeating the talking points. The option is not this bill or nothing. The options are: 1. this bill (which would have to be reconciled with the House bill), 2. nothing, 3. one of the GOP plans put forward, 4. a combination of 1 & 3 or 5. any other good idea that might come to light.

  • Joe

    “but to stop health care reform in its tracks altogether.”

    J – This is a completely wrong statement. The GOP does not want to stop health care reform – in fact they have offered alternative plans in the house. Paul Ryan and others offered bills that contained fundamental reforms of the insurance industry and the nature of how health care is regulated. And, no it was not just deregulation for the sake of deregulation. So please stop repeating the talking points. The option is not this bill or nothing. The options are: 1. this bill (which would have to be reconciled with the House bill), 2. nothing, 3. one of the GOP plans put forward, 4. a combination of 1 & 3 or 5. any other good idea that might come to light.

  • dave

    does Coburn not get paid enough to read the bill or amendment on his own time? is he simply unable to read it himself and that’s why he depends on it to be read aloud.

    finally, was Coburn there the entire time the amendment was being read aloud? if not that makes him a hypocrite for suggesting it needed to be read aloud in order to be understood.

  • dave

    does Coburn not get paid enough to read the bill or amendment on his own time? is he simply unable to read it himself and that’s why he depends on it to be read aloud.

    finally, was Coburn there the entire time the amendment was being read aloud? if not that makes him a hypocrite for suggesting it needed to be read aloud in order to be understood.

  • DonS

    dave:

    Absent Coburn’s demand to have the bill read, he would have had no time to read it “on his own time”. The Democrats refused to hold the vote to allow for independent consideration of the bill, despite their repeated promises of “transparency” during the last election.

  • DonS

    dave:

    Absent Coburn’s demand to have the bill read, he would have had no time to read it “on his own time”. The Democrats refused to hold the vote to allow for independent consideration of the bill, despite their repeated promises of “transparency” during the last election.


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