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Ted Rall, ignorant idiot

So, Your Humble Blogger does not usually make the mistake of taking Ted Rall seriously. In fact, I don’t usually make the mistake of taking Ted Rall at all. My local newspaper doesn’t print his stuff, and I certainly am not going around seeking it out.

Today, however, for some reason I cannot explain, the Hartford Courant chose to publish the cartoon for October 25th, along with a paragraph from his blog, which reads as follows:

Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut unwittingly exposed the Democrats' Big Lie on Iraq: that they need support from Republicans to stop the war. In fact, any senator can place a "hold" on any piece of legislation. They can even do it anonymously if they're afraid of the political ramifications of their action! So, the next time you hear on TV that the Democrats "need" 60 votes in the Senate to override Bush's threatened veto, don't believe it. And write to the network to demand an immediate correction.

In the Hartford Courant, the 60 was changed to 67, as of course in our actual political system, it requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate (and the House) to override a veto. They did not, however, correct the idea that there is no difference between passing a law and not passing a law.

Passing a law requires a majority, and due to the somewhat strange state of the norms currently in place in the Senate, really requires a supermajority of 60 in the Senate. If the President vetoes a bill, it goes back and requires two-thirds. One Senator cannot pass a law.

Not passing a law in theory requires a majority as well. However, due to the aforementioned norms, a large minority of 40 in the Senate can block a law. A minority of 34 can block a law if they work with the President. There is also the previously little-known Senatorial “hold” where one Senator can, essentially, ask the Senate Leadership to keep a bill from coming to a vote.

There are actually lots of ways a well-placed minority of Senators can keep a bill from getting to a vote. The previous Senate Leadership of Republicans made no bones about the fact that a bill would only get to the floor if it had a majority of Republicans supporting it; a bill supported by all the Democrats and a handful of Republicans was dead. Outside the leadership of the full Senate, a committee member can manage the schedule to keep a bill out of commission, and a majority of the members of the committee can kill a bill even if the bill has the support of a majority of the full Senate. There are always consequences, though; a Senator can be reassigned or removed from committee chairmanship if he is intractable, and a Majority Leader who prevents popular legislation from being passed runs a risk of not being the leader anymore, and his party not being in the Majority.

Now, as to the hold. I am not an expert on this, but I have read about it, and my understanding is that it’s what we at this Tohu Bohu call a reciprocal norm. And as with these norms, they work only if they within a particular context. Let’s say, for instance, that your brother-in-law asks you to help him out with a household task of some kind, say, painting the garage. You may well feel obliged to help; I would. And then, if I need a hand with, say, schlepping that old sofa to the dump, I might ask him for help. It’s reciprocal. Now, if my brother-in-law asks me to burn down the house across the street, I won’t do that. Nor would he ask me, not only because he knows I won’t do it, but because he knows that asking me would pretty much end our relationship, and I wouldn’t help him paint the garage next time.

Senators do not block major bills. One Senator cannot block one of the thirteen appropriations bills. If he tries, his leadership will tell him to get stuffed. Which is, essentially, what happened with Sen. Dodd and FISA. He put a block on it, and Harry Reid took it off again. Now, by doing that, Sen. Dodd drew attention to the bill (and to himself), and then by threatening to filibuster, he drew more attention to it, and even got some support from other Senators, and he’s managed to slow down the whole process to the point where he might just manage to kill the thing after all. The point that Sen. Dodd has embarrassed Sen. Reid (and Speaker Pelosi) by highlighting that they could be doing much more to oppose Our Only President would be valid; the point that “a single Senator can stop any bill” is not. And as for writing to the network to demand correction, well, that’s just embarrassing, isn’t it?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,