Sens. Sessions And Snowe Think It's Too Easy For Senate To Pass Legislation

October 24, 2011 11:58 am ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Jeff Sessions

You rarely hear that America's big problem is that it's just too darn easy to get legislation through the U.S. Senate. Not after years of gridlock caused by Republicans filibustering nearly everything — even jobs bills in the middle of an unemployment crisis. Even Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) — known as "Dr. No" for his gleeful obstructionism — has taken to complaining (disingenuously) that the Senate can't get anything done. And yet two Republican senators, Jeff Sessions (AL) and Olympia Snowe (ME), want to make it harder for the Senate to pass important legislation.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Sessions and Snowe propose requiring a supermajority for passage of appropriations bills:

For two years in a row, the Democratic-led Senate has failed to adopt a budget as required by law. Meanwhile, our gross national debt has climbed to almost $15 trillion -- as large as our entire economy. Our bill puts in place a 60-vote threshold before any appropriation bill can be moved through Congress -- unless both houses have adopted a binding budget resolution.

Incredible. Republicans, including Sessions and Snowe, have filibustered even the most uncontroversial of measures — and that knee-jerk opposition to just about anything the Senate majority wants to do is a significant part of the reason why the Senate hasn't adopted a budget. Now Sessions and Snowe cynically use that failure to justify structural changes that would make it harder for the Senate to pass any appropriations bills.

Sessions and Snowe propose another supermajority requirement:

Emergency Spending. In recent years, Congress has added billions to the deficit by labeling routine expenditures as "emergency" spending, allowing lawmakers to skirt normal budgetary rules. For example, Congress included $210 million in "emergency" spending for the 2010 Census even though, since its ratification in 1788, the Constitution has required a census every 10 years. Under current Senate procedure, attaching the "emergency" designation to a measure is easy — it's simply tucked into the bill text by a single senator before the bill never comes to the floor. The Honest Budget Act makes the process more open and transparent by requiring a supermajority of the Senate to add the designation.

If Republicans like Sessions and Snowe want to see fewer non-emergency expenditures labeled "emergency," they should take a stand against their party's practice of obstruction for obstruction's sake. Instead, they participate in it. Their complicity in using procedural gimmicks to neuter the concept of majority rule in the Senate leaves them without the moral high ground from which to complain when others use procedural gimmicks to restore some semblance of majority rule.

The disingenuousness of the argument put forth by Sessions and Snowe is driven home by what they don't propose. The senators argue that their supermajority requirement for appropriations and emergency spending is intended to make it "harder to spend money we don't have" and "confront the larger culture of fiscal corruption that is bankrupting the country." But Sessions and Snowe don't propose requiring a supermajority to cut taxes, though tax cuts also cause the Senate to "spend money we don't have" and "bankrupt the country." By requiring a supermajority only for spending decisions, Sessions and Snowe demonstrate that their true goal isn't to eliminate "budget trickery" or to reduce deficits: It's to cripple the government by making it even harder to pass appropriations. At a time when weak economic conditions demand increased government spending, Sessions and Snowe would make that all but impossible.

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