GOP Senators Refusing To Work Past 2PM, Invoking Obscure Rule
Senate Republicans fuming over the passage of health care reform are now refusing to work past 2 p.m. -- a tactic they can employ by invoking a little-known Senate rule.
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee was forced to cancel a hearing as was the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted today : "Disappointed. Rs refusing to allow hearings today. Had to cancel my oversight hearing on police training contracts in Afghanistan."
Sen. Mark Udall also complained that he had to delay a hearing on the cause of Western forest fires.
Making good on Sen. John McCain's threat to withhold all Republican cooperation from Democrats in the Senate in retribution for the majority party using reconciliation to pass health care reform, the GOP used the rule that states committees can only meet when the chamber is in session with the unanimous consent of all members. That consent has almost never been withheld -- until now.
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked for consent for his panel to operate Wednesday afternoon. He noted, ironically, that his request had the support of McCain.
"There is objection on our side of the aisle and therefore I object," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
The GOP objection blocked testimony from Admiral Robert Willard, United States Navy Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; from General Kevin Chilton, United States Air Force, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, and from General Walter Sharp, United States Army Commander, U.S. Forces Korea.
For his part, Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) was livid when his committee was forced to delay consideration of several judicial nominees.
"I have accommodated requests from Judiciary Committee Republicans to delay the Committee's hearing to consider Professor Liu's nomination," Leahy said.
He continued: "For months, Senate Republicans have resisted efforts to enact important reforms to our health insurance system. But when the dust settles and the emotions are calmed, history will show that President Obama and this Congress responded to a pressing national issue, and proved once again that we can act with the purpose of advancing an important national interest. 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."
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), objected to the objection. "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."
Without unanimous consent, committees are allowed to meet for two hours following the opening of the Senate session -- which on Wednesday was 9:00 a.m. The committees need consent to continue and consent again to continue after 2:00 p.m. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, had his hearing shut down abruptly at 11:00 Wednesday morning, in the middle of a discussion on the effort to end veteran homelessness in the next five years. It is estimated that more than 100,000 veterans are homeless in the United States on any given night.
"The Senate should be a place for debate, but I cannot imagine how shutting down a hearing on helping homeless veterans has any part of the debate on the health insurance reform," said Akaka. "I am deeply disappointed that my colleagues chose to hinder our common work to help end veteran homelessness."
Committee meetings were also canceled on Tuesday, but as the result of a behind-the-scenes threat, rather than an on-the-floor objection. One meeting that was shut down even dealt with transparency in government. The Executive Director of the Sunlight Foundation, Ellen Miller was cut off during the hearing.
Nick Wing contributed reporting to this post.
Watch Ellen Miller get cut off in Tuesday's hearing: