In his final floor speech before the middle-of-the-night cloture vote, Sen. Mitch McConnell declared, “It’s now clear the majority is willing to do anything to jam through a 2000-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.” And as we now comb through those 2,000 pages, it appears that “anything” is not limited to “anything the Constitution allows” or “anything that Congress has ever tried before.”
A case in point is the apparent effort by Senate Democrats to prevent future Congresses from pulling the plug on the noxious death panels … er … the Medicare Advisory Board, without a super-duper majority vote. Sen. Jim DeMint has pointed out that through a mere rule change, the Senate Democrats are trying to impose a 67-vote requirement, which will be nearly impossible to achieve, of course, to knock out the panels in a future Congress. So if for example the controversial mammogram guideline is enacted by the Medicare Advisory Board along with other “effectiveness” measures, there will be little a future Congress can do about it.
A Republican Senate adviser says: “The bill changes some Senate rules to say we can’t vote in a future Congress to repeal the IMAB (death panels). A Senate rules change would require 67 votes for cloture on the bill, but [Senate] parliamentarian decided its a “procedural change” not a “rules change” so they only need 60. … [It makes] no sense.” He says it is still possible to “find a way to kill the death panels even though the bill changes the rules to say we can’t (maybe deny them funding would work, we could change the Senate rule it creates in a later Congress with a 67 senator vote), but it’s clear the health bill changes Senate rules and needs 67 votes for cloture.” We are apparently in a Brave New World of making up Senate rules. The adviser remarks that Senate parliamentarian Alan S. Frumin “seems to be in Reid’s back pocket and is making stuff up to save the bill.”
In a brief survey of other Senate offices and some legal gurus, the initial reaction was the same: “One Congress can’t bind another.” It is at the very least dubious constitutionally and unseemly in the extreme. This is legislative bullying at its worst — rushed, nontransparent, with an anything-will-fly attitude. Once the public gets a whiff of this and the other shenanigans, one can imagine that their already negative reaction to the bill (the latest poll shows that the public disapproves by a 56 to 36 percent margin, and 72 percent don’t want any public money going to subsidize abortions) may turn to rage.