Senate Rules

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There's a story on Slashdot today about a practice in the Senate of putting anonymous "holds" on bills. The article notes that the practice "does not appear to be mentioned in the Constitution or in the Senate bylaws."

This is true, but irrelevant. Filibusters are not in the Constitution, either. They are in the Senate bylaws, of course, but there is only one body in this country that gets to determine the Senate bylaws: the Senate. And similarly, there is only one body that can say it has to be in the Senate bylaws in order to be practiced: the Senate.

And even though it does not even have to be in the Senate bylaws, because only the Senate can require that, it also is not against any bylaw, because it is wholly informal and nonbinding. The hold does not even actually prevent the Senate from bringing the bill to the floor, it merely signals the Senator's opposition to it being brought to the floor, which in effect serves as a threat of filibuster or some other adverse reaction, which, due to the congeniality of the Senate, effectively freezes the bill until some deal can be negotiated. Because we can't do something that might offend another Senator ... unless it is on CSPAN, and the public expects us to.

That is, a hold is just a Senator holding his breath until the others give in, which they do, because the Senate does not "do" confrontation like the House does.

Welcome to the U.S. Senate, kids.

I am not in favor of this practice, at all. I find it deplorable, even worse than filibusters (because holds are anonymous and behind the scenes, and so damned undemocratic). I am not defending the practice itself, or Ted Stevens and Carl Levin and others who abuse it. I'm just saying, the Senate has the first and last word on whether it will be allowed, and it is technically in the Senate bylaws, and no law, let alone the Constitution, is being violated.

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"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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This page contains a single entry by pudge published on August 30, 2006 3:01 PM.

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