The New Obstruction — GOP Tries To Delay Hearings And Extend Health Care Debate

March 24, 2010 8:45 a.m.

The Republicans seem to be responding to the passage of health care and likely passage of the reconciliation measure by invoking little-known rules to slow everything down. Senate Republicans have used a rare tactic during the opening of Senate business to cancel or postpone committee hearings.

In simple terms, the Senate has a rule about the hours that hearings can be held each day. They can’t be held until two hours after convening business, or after 2 p.m. To adjust the timing, any changes must be agreed upon each day by the chamber. They always are, with no fanfare. But today the Senate Republicans objected to holding the hearings, which forced several hearings to either be postponed or canceled. The maneuver is done by voice vote on the floor, and we don’t yet know which senator objected.

Senate Democrats are decrying the tactic — used yesterday to stop a subcommittee hearing on bark beetles and then today to slow a hearing on police training contracts in Afghanistan and cancel a Judiciary hearing on nominees — as obstructionism beyond the pale. Senate gallery staff told TPMDC it’s possible the GOP will try to force votes today to elongate the overall debate time for the bill, potentially even pushing it into the weekend.Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) lambasted Republicans for forcing him to suspend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled to consider pending nominations.

“Sadly, actions like today’s objections from Senate Republicans to the consideration of a highly qualified, historic nominee will be viewed as little more than petty, partisan politics,” Leahy, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) tweeted that she was forced to cancel her oversight hearing on Afghanistan contractors because “Rs refusing to allow hearings today.” She also criticized the GOP for the obstruction on the Senate floor.

“I don’t get it,” she said on the floor today. “I’m just confused about why the hearing we had scheduled this afternoon cannot go forward.”

A Republican aide told TPMDC this wasn’t a leadership effort, and noted that several major hearings with military generals and the nominee for the Transportation Security Administration were continuing as planned.

The DNC weighed in too, with spokesman Hari Sevugan charging that Republicans should identify the member who objected this morning.

“For months, following the strategy Republican leaders laid out before the President was even inaugurated, Republicans threw up every obstructionist road block they could, refusing to work with Democrats to get things done for the American people,” Sevugan said. “Today, they quite literally are refusing to work. Period. We think that refusing to do the work you were elected to do is out of touch with the American people at anytime.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley issued a statement yesterday the “Party of No” was living up to its name. He said Republicans are throwing a “temper tantrum and grinding important Senate business to a halt.”

He issued another statement today:

For a second straight day, Republicans are using tricks to shut down several key Senate committees. So let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings? These political games and obstruction have to stop – the American people expect and deserve better.

Here’s the actual rule, No. 26 in the Standing Rules of the Senate:

5. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of the rules, when the Senate is in session, no committee of the Senate or any subcommittee thereof may meet, without special leave, after the conclusion of the first two hours after the meeting of the Senate commenced and in no case after two o’clock postmeridian unless consent therefor has been obtained from the majority leader and the minority leader (or in the event of the absence of either of such leaders, from his designee). The prohibition contained in the preceding sentence shall not apply to the Committee on Appropriations or the Committee on the Budget. The majority leader or his designee shall announce to the Senate whenever consent has been given under this subparagraph and shall state the time and place of such meeting. The right to make such announcement of consent shall have the same priority as the filing of a cloture motion.

Ed. note: This post has been edited from the original.

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