Up The Filled Tree
Robert Novak’s column today catches one’s attention:
Even for the feckless Senate, last week was extraordinary. When Republicans contended that Reid broke his pledge to confirm three of President Bush’s appeals court nominees by Memorial Day, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell retaliated by requiring the entire climate-change bill to be read into the record (consuming more than 10 hours). A half-century ago, when I covered the Senate under Lyndon B. Johnson, such an event would have been headline news. Last week, it was barely noticed.
Majority Leader Reid has purposely ground the upper chamber to a partisan half by using the arcane procedural device known as “filling the tree”:
The device was used last week when Reid called up the bill responding to global warming, producing the state of futility that has haunted his year and a half as majority leader. Characteristically, Reid neither found the support needed to pass the bill nor attempted a compromise with opponents.
Debating an energy tax as gasoline prices hit $4 a gallon defied political logic. But Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, insisted. Reid bowed to her.
To prevent his Democratic colleagues from having to face difficult votes, Reid “filled the tree” with interlocking amendments staving off all other proposed changes. The procedure has been used by majority leaders of both parties since 1985, but it’s never been invoked as often as it has by Reid. This marked the 12th time he has resorted to the device.
The veteran columnist has no respect for Senator Reid’s stewardship:
Reid’s conduct is defended with the argument that he is hampered by a one-vote majority and will be less restricted once this year’s elections add to the number of Democrats on hand. But LBJ operated with a one-vote margin during the four years that made his reputation as, in biographer Robert Caro’s words, “master of the Senate.” Johnson relied on maneuver and negotiation.
In contrast, Reid uses arcane parliamentary tactics to transform the Senate into another House of Representatives, where the majority can dictate what amendments its members have to vote on. A bigger Democratic majority next January in itself may not reverse this institutional decline.