Wednesday, October 3, 2007

One Senator's 100 Holds

Buried in a page 3 article in the Washington Post is perhaps the most telling political statistic of our age.
The hold is one of the Senate's most controversial procedural tactics. It allows a single lawmaker to block a vote on legislation. Coburn has holds on about 100 pieces of legislation he opposes. - The Washington Post
You read that correctly. Senator Coburn of Oklahoma has issued approximately 100 current holds on legislation pending in the Senate. While it is appropriate to assign responsibility for the roadblocking of the Senate to the Republican party, it is illustrative to see the kind of power one contrarian Senator in the minority party can wield.

In the article we discover that Senator Coburn is responsible for blocking gun purchase background check legislation which grew out of the Virginia Tech tragedy. Apparently, making sure crazy people are allowed to carry guns is an issue close to Senator Coburn's heart. Perhaps he's worried the legislation would impact his own ability to purchase a gun?

Even the NRA supports this bill!
"There is not one person legally able to buy a firearm today who would be banned under the new law," said NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox. The measure is not gun control, he said. If it were, "we would withdraw our support."
Some of the other legislative efforts Senator Coburn has stopped by using the hold include a bill to prevent suicide among veterans (And Coburn is supposedly a "pro-life" conservative), efforts to deal with immigration reform, the Emmitt Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, even a bill to name a post office for Rachel Carson! No wonder Digby calls Senator Coburn shameless.

Oklahoma is lucky to have the opportunity to balance out Senator Coburn this year, as Senator "In denial" Inhofe (With a tip-o-the-hat to Senate 2008 Guru.) is up for re-election this year and being challenged by the pragmatic and rational Democrat Andrew Rice.

The hold has a long and important role in Senate procedure. It should not be eliminated, but perhaps it should be limited in some manner. For example, all holds should be made public, and each Senator should be limited in the number of holds they can issue in a given session of Congress. It is interesting to note that the Republicans were in favor of making holds public when they were in charge. While the hold is a venerable procedural tool, Senator Coburn has demonstrated the reductio ad absurdum argument for its reform.

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