Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bunning's Barrings

I understand why Senator Jim Bunning's lone objection to consideration of a measure to extend unemployment benefits is a thorn in the side of Senate Democrats (and some Republicans too). Even though there are ample votes to pass the measure, and even ample votes to block a filibuster on the measure, a long objector can tie the Senate up in knots. As I've explained before, the objection of even one Senator can force a debate and a vote on something, and the debate can end only following a successful cloture vote. And the kicker is that even a successful cloture vote doesn't immediately terminate debate and lead to a vote on the measure under consideration; it just starts a clock of 30 hours of debate, which is then followed by the substantive vote. And it typically takes at least two such votes to pass anything. So without unanimous consent, a single Senator can tie the Senate up for 60 hours of debate, and that's a lot of precious floor time.

But what I don't get is this: if there's really only one Senator objecting, why not just wait until he's off the Senate floor? He can't be on the floor every minute. If the Republicans as a group oppose something, then they can have someone on the floor at all times to object. But if most Republicans are for something, and just one Senator is gumming up the works, then seek unanimous consent when he's not there.

Even if Senate customs require advance notice of unanimous consent requests, fine, give advance notice that unanimous consent will be sought every five minutes -- 100 times a day if necessary. Have 20 different Democratic Senators make the unanimous consent request at their leisure, while Bunning is forced to spend every minute on the floor. I don't think he'll be able to afford to spend that kind of time on the floor indefinitely. Eventually he'll miss one of the requests, and it'll go through.

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