Government shutdown looming?

Thursday, September 30, 2010
By Paul Martin

Michael Tomasky

Jim DeMint, Republican senator of South Carolina/Tea Party fame, is threatening to shut the government down as of Sept. 30. It’s all very complex procedural stuff, but it is well explained by this Daily Kos post from David Waldman.

The post starts out quoting Roll Call:

Traditionally, the Senate passes noncontroversial measures by unanimous consent at the end of most workdays, a process known as hot-lining. DeMint, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and others have fought against the practice for years and have dedicated staff members to reviewing bills that are to be hot-lined.

As a result, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have generally given DeMint, Coburn and others time to review legislation before proceeding with unanimous consent agreements.

But in a terse e-mail sent to all 100 Senate chiefs of staff Monday evening, Steering Committee Chief of Staff Bret Bernhardt warned that DeMint would place a hold on any legislation that had not been hot-lined or been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday.

Okay, got that? Let me provide a little context by saying that for the better part of two centuries, both parties permitted unanimous consent on noncontroversial bills. Until Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint came along.

Even so, Coburn and DeMint usually agree to let minor bills pass through. But this week, with adjournment scheduled for Thursday, DeMint has just threatened to personally hold back any legislation, no matter how minor, that isn’t agreed to by close of business today.

It also happens to be the case that the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, meaning government operations will end if Congress doesn’t pass what are called continuing resolutions to keep things going – to keep national parks open, certain federal disbursements going out, etc.

David Dayen of FireDogLake doesn’t think that in this case DeMint can probably hold things up for more than a few days, and he knows more about procedure than I do.

But I don’t put much past DeMint. A government shutdown would really fire up the tea-party base. It would really fire up the liberal base too, of course. But it would put a lot of pressure on Democrats to win the spin war, with a president sitting in the White House on the day (Oct. 1) that government services – hated in abstract, quite useful in real life – suddenly become unavailable or stop arriving. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say the D’s are quite capable of screwing it up.

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