Process in 2009


The New York Times takes a look at Senator Tom Coburn and all the legislation he's single-handedly holding up under the Senate's weird rules where one member can block a bill unless it's Chris Dodd trying to maintain some limits to presidential surveillance power. Tim Fernholz comments on efforts to put a stop to Coburn's obstructionism:

It'll be interesting to see how Harry Reid handles this one (the Times seems pessimistic about his chances for success) since it will be a preview of his ability to handle obstructionist Senators in 2009.

This is very right. During the Democratic primary there was a lot of emphasis on the relative level of commitment and general hard-core-ness of the different candidates as the independent variable in terms of what happens legislatively in 2009-2010. Realistically, though, if Barack Obama wins an enormous amount will depend on the procedural rules of the Senate and how the leadership and the Democratic rank and file interpret them. If a health care bill is handled through the budget reconciliation process (which you can't filibuster) then many things become possible that wouldn't otherwise be. More broadly, though I highly doubt this is going to happen, there's nothing stopping the Democrats from doing something along the lines of the proposed "nuclear option" and simply repealing the filibuster rule altogether. Alternatively, Tom Coburn could be allowed to hold up vast swathes of legislative activity. It really just depends on the extent to which Democratic members are interested in subordinating their own personal prerogatives as Senators to the larger effort to pass an ambitious legislative program.