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November 09, 2008


"I presume the legal eagles working for Obama know all this"

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who remembers perfectly clearly this article in the NY Times from last May about the 560 day rule. It's hardly obscure.

"One note of caution, however, is that Senate holds could impede the repeal -- I don't really know how these work though. Anyone?"

What don't you know? Any Senator can, under the Standing Rules, anonymously and secretly put forward a slip putting a hold on any legislation. Since 2007, however, a hold can only be secret for 6 days. And generally speaking, it's become hard in the last couple of years to be very anonymous, as more and more Senators will affirm that it Wasn't Them. Did you have a specific question? Need a pointer to the Standing Rules? It's Rule 7.

Specifically, this: "2. Until the morning business shall have been concluded, and so announced from the Chair, or until one hour after the Senate convenes at the beginning of a new legislative day, no motion to proceed to the consideration of any bill, resolution, report of a committee, or other subject upon the Calendar shall be entertained by the Presiding Officer, unless by unanimous consent"

No unamimous consent, no consideration of given bill, resolution, etc.

More on holds.

I feel like Slim Pickens riding the missile down at the end of Dr. Strangelove (but in a good way).

Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.

OT->Here's an op-ed that discusses Obama being an intellectual. When I read it, starbursts came off of the page and a tingle went up my spine. Now I know what Rich Lowry felt like!

It's just soooooo encouraging to read about Obama as a man who recognizes the value and importance of ideas. Anti-intellectualism won't die, unfortunately, but Obama grants us a short reprieve.

"Here's an op-ed"

Sorta, technically, but usually that refers to commissioned pieces by independents; you're pointing to a Nicholas Kristof column. (No offense; I'm anal about these things.)

I'd pick a nit with Kristof, too, in calling William Burroughs a "social critic," rather than just "writer."

"to overturn last-minute Clinton ergonomics regulations."

Is this a typo? Or did Clinton rush through some controversial legislation about the shapes of chairs?

It's not a typo. Clinton's OSHA issued standards on workplace ergonomics that were killed by the incoming Bush regime. Jordan Barab, a worker safety activist, was spurred to start his outstanding blog Confined Space by that very rollback.

Bush types mocked the regulations as silly, but injuries to people working at computer screens and keyboards all day long are just as real and unnecessary as any other workplace hazard, if not as lethal. Bush's base didn't want the regs gone because they were silly, but because it cost them money.

I'm glad your question prompted me to revisit Confined Space. Jordan had a great way of clearing away the smoke of procedural-liberal bamboozlement and getting to the heart of issues:

the right to a safe workplace wasn’t bestowed upon us by concerned politicians or employers who were finally convinced that “Safety Pays.” The right to a safe workplace was won only after a long and bitter fight by workers, unions and public health advocates. ... The current movement to transform the agency into nothing but a coordinator of voluntary alliances is a betrayal of that promise and those lives.

Stuart, iirc there were indeed ergonomic regulations included (apart from stricter regulations of arsenic in drinking water).

Do Senate holds make any sense? I'm all for checks and balances, but this is absurd -- why give a single legislator this kind of absolute power? It didn't work well in the Roman Republic, and even there the tribunes couldn't veto anonymously.

According to wikipedia (thanks for the link, Gary!), the point was to give Senators a chance to study the legislation at their leisure -- but there are much more straightforward ways to do that, such as requiring repeated hearings of a bill over a week unless overridden by unanimous consent. And, that would not need (limited) anonymity.

I don't know if you went so far as to read this footnoted debate, Crafty Trilobite, which illuminates some of the arguments.

I think the fact is that saying "The ability to place a hold would allow that Senator an opportunity to study the legislation and to reflect on what it means before moving forward with further debate and voting" is a bit disingenuous. The prior sentence has a great deal more to do with the history and reality: "The original intent of these sections were to protect a Senator's right to be consulted on legislation that affected the Senator's state or that they had a great interest in."

It's been a guarded privilege of Senators to be able to safeguard their states industries and interests, and in some cases it's simply used as horsetrading blackmail.

Obviously, it's a power easily subject to abuse, which is why it's been reined in somewhat in recent years. Whether it should be abolished remains, of course, entirely up to the 100 Senators, and it's up to them to decide whether the loss to themselves in ability to hold up something that might truly seriously be something they really care about is worth putting up with some abuse. After all, Senators who abuse it can have revenge taken on them in many ways.

I think it's hard to make an accurate judgement of that without being a lot closer to the Senate than I am, myself. Senate rules and procedures can get extremely arcane; I know more than the basics, but I've only scratched the surface.

On the subject of Senate holds, KagroX (a former Congressional staffer) did an outstanding job of describing the real-world political process surrounding them in this post.

There are many positive aspects to political blogs and online communities, but one of the most valuable is the opportunity for experts to help demystify for us rabble these important but little-understood processes that have huge effects on our lives.

Therefore (given the Daily Kos article reference by the last commenter) a hold would not work in this case.
A hold is basically a threat to filibuster, which in minor legislation is equivalent to a one-person veto, since without unanimous consent one senator could theoretically force the Senate to spend a week to pass a single bill.
However, it is worthless in major legislation, when the Senate may be willing to spend a week to pass it if necessary, and it would be useless in this case, since debate time is limited anyway.

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