Kevin Drum reports the following:
"Democrats have been threatening to "bring the Senate to a halt" if Republicans go ahead with plans to eliminate the filibuster, but today the Senate Dems announced a plan to do just the opposite. Via email, Harry Reid's office announced this afternoon that "As a matter of comity, the Minority in the Senate traditionally defer to the Majority in the setting of the agenda. If Bill Frist pulls the nuclear trigger, Democrats will show deference no longer." "
What does this mean? Well, Kevin tells us, but I'm going to quote a press release from Sen. Reid instead, since it contains additional details:
"Invoking a little-known Senate procedure called Rule XIV, the Democrats put nine bills on the Senate calendar that seek to help America fulfill its promise.
“Across the country, people are worried about things that matter to their families – the health of their loved ones, their child’s performance in schools, and those sky high gas prices,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. “But what is the number one priority for Senate Republicans? Doing away with the last check on one-party rule in Washington to allow President Bush, Senator Frist and Tom Delay to stack the courts with radical judges. If Republicans proceed to pull the trigger on the nuclear option, Democrats will respond by employing existing Senate rules to push forward our agenda for America.”"
Below the fold are the nine bills, with Reid's descriptions; I have added their numbers, and links to the bills' text.
- Women's Health Care (S. 844). The Prevention First Act of 2005 will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions by increasing funding for family planning and ending health insurance discrimination against women.
- Veterans' Benefits (S. 845). The Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2005 will assist disabled veterans who, under current law, must choose to either receive their retirement pay or disability compensation.
- Fiscal Responsibility (S. 851). Democrats will move to restore fiscal discipline to government spending and extend the pay-as-you-go requirement.
- Relief at the Pump (S. 847). Democrats plan to halt the diversion of oil from the markets to the strategic petroleum reserve. By releasing oil from the reserve through a swap program, the plan will bring down prices at the pump.
- Education (S. 848). Democrats have a bill that will: strengthen head start and child care programs, improve elementary and secondary education, provide a roadmap for first generation and low-income college students, provide college tuition relief for students and their families, address the need for math, science and special education teachers, and make college affordable for all students.
- Jobs (S. 846). Democrats will work in support of legislation that guarantees overtime pay for workers and sets a fair minimum wage.
- Energy Markets (S. 870). Democrats work to prevent Enron-style market manipulation of electricity.
- Corporate Taxation (S. 872). Democrats make sure companies pay their fair share of taxes to the U.S. government instead of keeping profits overseas.
- Standing with our troops (S. 11). Democrats believe that putting America's security first means standing up for our troops and their families.
So as far as I can tell, the plan is this: if the Republicans go ahead with their plan to remove the filibuster on judicial appointments, removing a traditional prerogative of minorities, the Democrats will stop going along with Republicans' setting the agenda, removing one of the traditional prerogatives of majorities, rather than just stopping business in the Senate altogether. I am not an expert on Senate Rules, but if they can get these bills to be debated, I would think the Republicans would have to either vote against these bills explicitly or filibuster them. In the first case, we win, since many of these bills are both good in their own right and popular. In the second, we win as well, since the spectacle of the Republicans filibustering against, say, allowing veterans to collect disability pay without sacrificing part of their pensions would be marvelous. And of course we win even more if these bills pass, since (with one exception) they are, I think, quite good.
Moreover, this might help to dispel the idea that the Democrats have no ideas. This is not true: the Democratic candidates for President had lots of interesting ideas, most of which were never mentioned by any news organization; John Kerry had some great ideas, most notably his health care plan, and the Democrats generally have proposed a lot of great things that have gotten no coverage at all.
Who, for instance, can forget that great day when Nancy Pelosi and other members of the House Leadership introduced the GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century? Practically no one, and the reason is not that it is seared into our collective memory, but that in order to forget something you have to have heard of it in the first place, and since this received no coverage at all, virtually no one did. And trust me on this: lots of other good ideas have similarly slipped unnoticed into oblivion. (And why should they have been covered, since virtually no Democratic bill has any chance at all of passing?)
These nine bills are some of our hitherto unnoticed ideas. With the exception of the fourth (stopping the diversion of oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve), they all seem, on cursory inspection, to be quite good. PAYGO alone would be a huge and important improvement. If you're not up on arcane political terminology, PAYGO rules require that any proposal Congress adopts must be revenue-neutral: it must not add to the deficit. The PAYGO rule can be waived with sixty votes, so in case of some dire need apparent to more than a bare majority, Congress can add to the deficit. But it makes it a lot harder for Congress not to live within its means.
It also forces some honesty into the budgeting process. To quote Mark Schmitt:
"Few things are more arcane than congressional PAYGO rules. And yet, little is more important, especially right now. A few weeks ago, in writing about Goldwater, I noted that the genius of Rove and his followers was that they had figured out how to separate the ideological conservatism that Americans liked from the operational conservatism -- the real cuts in government -- that Americans did not. PAYGO rules are a way of forcing those two back together. If Republicans are serious about cutting taxes and making government smaller, they must be willing to come forward simultaneously with the cuts they are willing to make and bear the consequences. Or, if they do not want to make cuts but still want to cut taxes for the top 0.2% of the population, they must be willing to say whose taxes they are willing to raise to pay for those cuts."
The education bill, which includes increased funding for Head Start and Pell Grants, the two veterans' bills, the hike in the minimum wage and guarantee of overtime, and the family planning bill are also good. (The last makes it possible for states to expand family planning coverage in various ways, requires group health care plans to cover contraceptives, requires that hospitals receiving federal funds make emergency contraception available to rape victims, and provides new grants for teenage pregnancy prevention programs that are not abstinence-only programs.)
These are good bills, and for the Democrats to respond to the nuclear option by forcing Republicans to come out against them explicitly, rather than just allowing them to die quietly, is an excellent strategy.