One of the things I love about blogging is that I end up learning all these wonderfully arcane things. For instance: I had never previously heard of Senate Organizing Resolutions. If one had sat down next to me on a bus, I wouldn't have known what it was. And yet all this time Senate Organizing Resolutions have been sitting around, confident of their own importance, not having to trumpet it to anyone, while most of us were unaware of their very existence. Kind of like missile silos, or septic drains. But look how important they are:
"With Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) publicly stating he'd consider becoming a Republican if Democrats block new funding for the Iraq War, many Democrats worry that control of the Senate hangs in the balance. However, their fears are unfounded. Many think back to 2001 when former Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT) began caucusing with Democrats instead of Republicans, taking control of the Senate out of GOP hands. However, the two situations - though outwardly similar - contain one important difference.
If Lieberman were to caucus with the Republicans, they would still not take full control of the Senate, despite Vice President Dick Cheney's ability to break 50-50 ties. This is because of a little-known Senate organizing resolution, passed in January, which gives Democrats control of the Senate and committee chairmanships until the beginning of the 111th Congress.
What's the difference between now and 2001? A small but important distinction. When the 107th Congress was convened on January 3, 2001, Al Gore was still the Vice President and would be for another two-and-a-half weeks. Therefore, because of the Senate's 50-50 tie, Democrats had nominal control of the chamber when the organizing resolution came to a vote. With Dick Cheney soon to come in, however, Democrats allowed Republicans to control the Senate in return for a provision on the organizing resolution that allowed for a reorganization of the chamber if any member should switch parties, which Jeffords did five months later. There was no such clause in the current Senate's organizing resolution."
Here's a longer history, containing an account of the 83rd Congress, which must hold the all time record for shifting majorities:
"The Republicans had a Senate plurality from January to July 1953. Then the Democrats had a plurality until June 1954; the Republicans again until December 1954; and finally the Democrats again until the 83d Congress ended in January 1955. These periods were occasionally interrupted by a week or two, and in one case a month, when the parties were tied.
For nearly half of the 83d Congress, the Democrats had more Senate seats than the Republicans. But for the entire two years, Republicans chaired the committees and ran the Senate. Republican Senator William Knowland frequently referred to himself as a majority leader without a majority, and his Democratic counterpart, Lyndon Johnson, said, “If anyone has more problems than a majority leader with a minority, it is a minority leader with a majority.”"
It also contains an account of Sen. Wayne Morse's difficulties finding a stable party identity after he left the Republicans:
"When the Senate met at the start of the 83d Congress, Morse refused to sit with either party in the Senate chamber and instead sat on a folding chair in the aisle between the Republican side and the Democratic side. When he realized this made him look silly, he resumed his seat on the Republican side even though he was no longer a Republican. Then he wanted to sit among the Democrats because, he said, two Republican senators kept whispering insults at him."
I went and checked the Senate's Organizing Resolutions, and it's true: whereas the 107th Congress's resolution (S. Res. 8) does provide for a shift in control of the Senate if the majority shifts, there is no such language in the organizing resolutions for the present Congress (S. Res. 27 and 28.) Which means that I feel no compunction whatsoever about saying:
Joe Lieberman: go jump in a lake. The Republicans can have you.