Martinez out, LeMieux in (and a few words on health care)

October 7th, 2009

I’ve just added George LeMieux as the new junior senator from Florida. LeMieux replaces Mel Martinez, who abruptly announced his retirement from the Senate in August. LeMieux assumed office on September 10, so I’m quite late to the party, but luckily there have been no cloture votes since then.

What else? Well, the sound and fury around health care legislation underscores how the mere threat of filibuster can cast a shadow over legislative proceedings. The Senate Finance Committee has taken quite a long time to draft its own version of reform legislation, even though several other bills have existed for months. The stated reason is that the committee’s chairman, Max Baucus, assumed the responsibility of writing a bill that would get 60 votes in the Senate.

Now, people can argue over whether he ought to assume that 60 votes will be necessary for passage. Eons from now, when one of the many health care bills comes up for debate in the Senate, I think we’ll see a filibuster attempt. But even if we don’t, I think the proceedings will have demonstrated the power of the filibuster. It’s a menacing weapon for the minority to own, even if it stays holstered, and it affects the legislative process in ways that aren’t always reflected in the numbers on this site.

Some homework before we part company: educate yourself on conference committees. The House and Senate will be voting on two different health care bills; if both pass, it will fall to such a committee to normalize the differences between the two. As far as I can tell, the reports that come out of conference committees can themselves be filibustered — unless the original bill was passed under budget reconciliation rules.

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