In 2001 the Senate was divided 50-50.
Democrats in the Senate demanded under threat of filibuster that the GOP pass a Senate rules package that gave the minority more funding for committee slots and — as it turned out more importantly — the right to reorganize should the makeup of the Senate change in favor of the Democrats. The makeup of the Senate did change when Jim Jeffords switched parties and because the Senate GOP had conceded to Democrat demands providing a rule for mid-session reorganization, Democrats gained control of the Senate. Had the GOP not conceded to that rule, they could have filibustered the motion to reorganize and kept control of the Senate.
Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and unlike the 2001 Democrats, today’s Senate GOP will reportedly not push for equal treatment. Congressional Quarterly reports:
Senate Republicans, sensitive to appearances and confident of their parliamentary prowess, are unlikely to press for a formal agreement with Democrats to reorganize the chamber if the GOP picks up a seat in the course of the 110th Congress.
This week’s sudden hospitalization of Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who underwent emergency surgery for bleeding in his brain, dramatically underscored the tenuous balance of power in the new Congress.
While I understand that pushing for this rule at this time could be perceived as morbid, I think it is a mistake not to demand equal treatment. This has nothing to do with Senator Johnson. His recovery thankfully appears to be going well and I fully expect and hope that he will be back casting votes in the Senate soon.
What this is about is another Senator: Joe Lieberman.
Joe Lieberman was betrayed by many of his colleagues and his closest friends in the 2006 midterm elections. That betrayal he has made clear is something he will not soon forget and he has hinted multiple times that he would consider switching parties if the extreme liberal faction of his party pushes things too far. It is good for conservatives and for the nation to have Joe Lieberman acting as check on these extreme elements in the Democratic Party.
But now, as the GOP is foregoing their right to demand equal treatment, Joe Lieberman’s power to act as a counterwieght to liberal extremism has been diminished.
If the Senate rules do not treat the GOP in the same way that the 2001 Dems were treated, Joe Lieberman’s threat to switch parties if liberals get out of control is rendered toothless. This is because under the rules about to be conceded to by the Senate GOP, Democrats would be able to filibuster any motion to reorganize should the makeup of the Senate change. If Lieberman switched parties, do you think a liberal Senate Democratic caucus who already has demonstrated that they have no love loss for Lieberman would hesitate to filibuster a motion to reorganize? Of course they wouldn’t. They would feel justified in their filibuster because they would say that Lieberman caucused with their party and that the 2006 midterms was an American stamp of approval on a Democratic majority for these two years.
The GOP should not roll over on this issue. This is not about getting the majority back. This is about allowing Joe Lieberman to temper the Democrats’ extreme liberal tendencies.