July 30, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

Parliamentarian Stokes Republican Ire

Republicans accused Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin of being biased toward Democrats on Wednesday after he made a procedural ruling that allowed Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to short-circuit GOP efforts to derail his health care overhaul legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of “somehow [convincing] the Parliamentarian to break with the long-standing precedent and practice of the Senate in the reading of the bill,” saying it proved Democrats will resort to any means necessary to pass the bill.

“It’s now clear the majority is willing to do anything to jam through a 2,000-page bill before the American people or any of us has had a chance to read it — including changing the rules in the middle of the game,” McConnell said.

Other Republicans laid the blame squarely at Frumin’s feet. “I think the Parliamentarian was clearly biased in doing this,” Senate Republican Steering Committee Chairman Jim DeMint (S.C.) said following Frumin’s ruling that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) could withdraw his 767-page amendment — after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) had forced the chamber’s clerks to read it aloud, a process that was expected to take up to 12 hours.

The Parliamentarian’s office did not return a call for comment.

After Coburn objected to a unanimous consent order to waive the reading of Sanders’s amendment ­— a proposal to replace the health care bill with a single-payer, government-run system — the clerks began reading the entire measure, halting any further progress on Reid’s health care bill.

After nearly three hours, Sanders withdrew his amendment, the reading ceased, and Republicans cried foul.

Republicans accused Frumin of creating a new precedent in ruling that Sanders could withdraw since the Standing Rules of the United States Senate appears to say that only a request to waive a reading can actually interrupt the reading process.

“I’m surprised the Parliamentarian did this. If they were going to do this, they had an obligation to tell us” of the rule change, Coburn argued. “How do you navigate if you don’t have a map you can depend on?” Coburn asked. The Oklahoma Senator complained that Democrats “no longer have an umpire calling balls and strikes. This is now having a teammate calling the strikes and balls for you.”

Republicans argued the controversial ruling, as well as a decision by Democrats to then table an amendment offered by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) without first letting her address the chamber, are an indication of how partisan the Senate has become — and warned it could have lasting effects.

“Members of our side are very troubled. ... If we’re going to get down to a close battle and the rules are going to be changed, this will adversely affect the chamber,” Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said.

According to Democrats and Republicans, Frumin’s decision appears to turn on an obscure 1992 motion to withdraw an amendment that was being read.

That would appear to contradict the chamber’s rules. According to “Riddick’s Rules of Procedure,” “an amendment shall be read by the Clerk before it is up for consideration or before the same shall be debated unless a request to waive the reading is granted ... the reading of which may not be dispensed with except by unanimous consent, and if the request is denied the amendment must be read and further interruptions are not in order. ... When an amendment is offered the regular order is its reading, and unanimous consent is required to call off the reading.”

Democrats contend that the 1992 withdrawal essentially created a new precedent and that Republican anger is simply frustration about having their efforts at obstruction blocked.

“They are upset because they were thwarted in their latest stunt to derail health reform,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in an e-mail. “The rules of the Senate are clear. Any Senator can withdraw his amendment prior to the yeas and nays being requested. That is what happened in this case. It’s parliamentary rules 101. Nothing biased or changed about that.”

Republicans, however, called that reading of the record disingenuous at best.

In 1992, the “chair made a mistake and allowed something similar to happen. But one mistake does not a precedent make,” McConnell said. “For example, there is precedent for a Senator being beaten with a cane here in the Senate. If mistakes were the rule, the caning of Senators would be in order. Fortunately for all of us, it is not.”

Earlier in the day, Democrats were using the fact that they could not stop the reading to make the case that the GOP’s efforts were resulting in the delay of a critical Defense Department spending bill. They later checked with the Parliamentarian and realized there was a way around it.

The complaints against Frumin and Senate Democrats are the latest example of an increasingly bitter climate in the chamber. For instance, earlier this month, Republicans accused Reid of attempting to rig the floor schedule to accommodate his fundraising trips when he tried to cancel a Saturday vote that would have conflicted with an event in New Orleans. Reid eventually canceled his trip and accused Republicans of attempting to embarrass him.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said he hopes Wednesday’s events don’t cast a permanent shadow on the chamber. “Hopefully everybody’s going to be a grown-up about it and understand that proponents have a job and opponents have a job to do,” Cornyn said.

But others were not so sure.

“If there was any good faith, it’s gone. ... No one can say this is a fair process when they basically have a Parliamentarian in their pocket,” DeMint added.

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