Commentary: Sen. DeMint's high-handed move

The Rock Hill HeraldOctober 13, 2010 

Voters of different political persuasions are likely to see Sen. Jim DeMint's recent display of unilateral power in different lights.

Just before Congress convened last month to go home and campaign, DeMint announced that for the rest of the congressional session, all bills and nominations that were set to be routinely passed on unanimous consent would have to go through his office first. He said he wanted to review each bill to ensure that no hidden measures slipped through.

Implicit in this demand was the threat to block any bill that didn't meet DeMint's standards. Any senator can place a hold on a bill, and removing the hold requires the laborious process of invoking cloture, which requires 60 votes.

DeMint's fans are likely to see this as a one-man stand against underhanded government, while his detractors are likely to see it as an arrogant abuse of Senate etiquette. And it is just as likely that South Carolina's junior senator knew exactly what impression he was making and the reaction it would get.

DeMint had no intention of blocking every bill. In fact, he favored some of them.

But he has complained that the so-called "hotline" process has been abused to ram through bills to avoid politically difficult roll call votes. Senators are supposed to be notified in advance of all bills or nominations to be moved by unanimous consent, but officials with DeMint's office say aides to Senate leaders often leave phone messages about such bills late in the day, after staffers have gone home.

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., are working on a bill that would require measures to be posted online at least 72 hours before Senate votes, whether unanimous or roll call. That would be a welcome reform that answers most of DeMint's objections.

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