Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Trick Play

It's football season.  Even if you're not remotely interested in the games and don't follow a team at any level, you can't help but notice.  While this isn't remotely about football, I think there's a very valid comparison to be made between football and Congress, so I'm going to ask your indulgence for a moment.

A term that we hear in football sometimes is "Trick Play."  The usual meaning is that the team with the ball did something unexpected...they "tricked" the defense.  Most often that's an unexpected on-side kick, maybe a fake punt, or even something known as the Statue of Liberty play.

When trick plays work, which they often do, the other team usually responds with "Yeah, they won...but they used a trick play."  In other words, we have an excuse for losing because they did something we didn't plan for,'s not really our fault.

Now, trick plays aren't illegal.  They aren't even defined in the rules.  They just...are.  In fact, if you know football, you know that almost every play is a trick play.  If you fake a hand-off, that's a "trick."  If you shift your blocking to make the defense think you're doing something else, that's a "trick."

Okay, enough about football.  Let's look at "trick plays" in Congress, specifically the Senate.

While the idea is still the same..."I want my side to win," the rules actually provide the tricks.  Lots of them.

During the year, we hear how something was passed or defeated by using some rule at allows doing things differently.  If the Senate won't vote to confirm a judge, the President can wait until the Senate takes a vacation, and then make a "Recess Appointment."  It's a sort of "trick" except it's specifically allowed in the rules.

Some senators are very proud of their knowledge of the rules, and regularly use a couple to great advantage.
 However, there are two rules in particular that are much more than a "trick."  In fact, they defeat the very idea of the purpose of the Senate.

The first, which I discussed at some length in Ten Simple Things to Restore the American Dream, is that any one Senator can hold a bill.  Done properly, that action can completely derail legislation forever!  Usually the reason behind it has nothing to do with the bill involved, and that's a legal "trick" too.

However, the one that's hurting us all right now is different.  Here's what happens.

According to the Senate Rules, if any one Senator objects to debating and voting upon a bill, the Senate can only debate and vote on it if 60 Senators agree to do so.  In simple terms, that means that it takes 60 Senators to pass a bill, and that's not what the Constitution intended.

The Senate is supposed to vote, and a "majority" vote decides.  A majority is 51!  However, since it takes 60 to allow debate, the minority of 40 can stop anything.  And they do.  Regularly.

Twice the Senate has tried to take up the President's Jobs Bill, and twice the Republican minority has been able to muster at least 40 votes to say no.  There are, according to many headcounters, enough votes to pass the bill, but those 51+ never get to vote.  What we have is not a decision made by the majority, but tyranny by the minority!

Unfortunately, the people can't change those rules.  However, we can...and should...remember when the next election rolls around.  In the meantime we should all be asking our Senators exactly why they don't want to have a vote on the bill.  If it's that bad, then they should be able to convince others to vote against it...and it won't pass.  On the other hand, if it's simply something they don't like, maybe they need to learn that we all don't get our own way, and possibly they don't have a clue what the people of the United States want.

I say Vote!  If they pass bad legislation, then they can explain how that happened.  If they pass good legislation, then we all win.  When they pass no legislation, then we know they need to be replaced.  Went sent them there to work, and we don't need a Do Nothing Congress anymore!

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