Two weeks ago, the Progress Report warned of a nightmare scenario where a single senator decides to object to virtually every measure being considered by the Senate, a maneuver could effectively bring the entire body to a screeching halt. Now, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has come close to turning this nightmare into a reality:
Sen. Jim DeMint warned his colleagues Monday night that he would place a hold on all legislation that has not been “hot-lined” by the chamber or has not been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday. Although the South Carolina Republican has objected for years to the hot-lining of legislation until his staff at the Republican Steering Committee has reviewed it, DeMint’s threat to essentially shut down legislation in the chamber is remarkable. [...]
[I]n a terse e-mail sent to all 100 Senate chiefs of staff Monday evening, Steering Committee Chief of Staff Bret Bernhardt warned that DeMint would place a hold on any legislation that had not been hot-lined or been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday. [...]
Democratic and Republican aides alike were stunned, arguing that DeMint had essentially made a unilateral decision to end legislative activity in the Senate.
“Hot-lining” is a process by which the two Senate leaders poll their caucuses to see if anyone objects to passing a bill. If no one raises an objection, than the bill is fast-tracked for passage. DeMint apparently plans to honor his existing promises to allow legislation to be hot-lined, but he has told the entire Senate that they have until close of business today to get his approval for other legislation or else he will block that bill — even if it enjoys overwhelming support.
DeMint can get away with this stunt because the Senate’s rules are ripe for abuse. Unless all 100 senators agree to begin and end debate on a bill without objection, the dissenting senators can force up to 60 hours of uninterrupted debate before a final vote can take place. As a new CAP issue brief explains, by wasting 60 hours of the Senate’s limited time just to pass a single bill, a small number of senators can grind the Senate to a near-complete halt.
As of last August, 372 bills had passed the House, many of them unanimously, but have yet to receive a vote in the Senate. At 60 hours per bill, it would require over two and a half years to vote on these bills, and that’s assuming the Senate works around the clock and on weekdays, weekends and holidays. In other words, there is simply not enough time to get more than a fraction of the Senate’s business done if a minority is determined to do everything they can to block progress.
DeMint’s decision to force his colleagues to seek his personal approval before he will allow a vote to take place is a new escalation in the right’s already-unprecedented game of obstruction. Filibusters and holds happen — and they happen a whole lot more now than they used to — but placing a hold on every single pending bill is the Senate’s doomsday device.