Looking for a culprit in the Senate health care bill that keeps getting watered down and loaded up with ugly amendments?
Arcane Senate Rule 22, known as the filibuster, is not in the Constitution. It's an internal rule requiring 60 of 100 senators to vote to end debate before moving to a majority vote on a bill.
Ideally, the filibuster is supposed to assure deliberation and prevent arbitrary action by a 51-vote majority. Unfortunately, it has morphed into a way for a minority to kill bills ("do nothing, and do it slowly"). It is also used by individual senators to extort special favors (creating "Christmas tree" bills, with holdout senators hanging their own "ornaments" before they'll agree to end debate).
And where senators in the past would have to actually stand on the floor all day and all night to keep debate going, Senate practice recently has allowed psuedo-filibusters – the mere threat of a filibuster – to force the majority to assemble 60 votes to move legislation.
In the health care bill, Republicans are using the threat of a filibuster in hopes of killing the effort. And a handful of Democratic senators are using it to win concessions. So to get landmark health care legislation passed, the Senate majority faces a difficult choice.
It could force the minority to stage a real filibuster – making senators stay on the floor, if necessary using the sergeant-at-arms to enforce a quorum.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.