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Another Jobs Bill Killed

June 23, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

On June 6th, the Senate opened debate on the Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011, a bill to reauthorize and expand a long-running and consistently successful job-creation agency, the Economic Development Administration. The EDA has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, and this reauthorization bill was introduced with bipartisan co-sponsorship and passed out of committee without any dissent from Republicans. But after two weeks of debate, the bill was unanimously filibustered by Republicans and has now been pulled from the floor.

Like the last jobs bill to die in the Senate, the bill was bogged down and ultimately killed by dozens of controversial and unrelated amendments that were submitted to it. Senate rules do not require amendments to be germane to the bill they are submitted to, so individual senators can choose to use any bill to force a vote on any of their pet issues. By the time the EDA bill was killed, 99 amendments had been submitted, and the list read like an overview of current hot-button political topics. The amendments included everything from raising the debt ceiling, to repealing health care reform, repealing financial regulatory reform, expanding offshore oil drilling, and more.

This problem of non-controversial bills being killed by controversial amendments has its roots in a deal on procedure that Democratic and Republican Senate leaders agreed to at the beginning of this session. In exchange for Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] keeping bills open to amendments, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY] and his caucus agreed to not mount filibusters of bringing bills to the floor as a matter of routine. As a result, the Democratic majority has been able to hold debates on their legislative agenda, but the Republicans have also been able to turn every debate into an attempt to repeal health care reform.

The Senate Majority Leader has almost complete control over what bills get brought up for debate, so it is the case that most Republican issues stand no chance of being voted on this session outside the amendment process. But the Senate can’t vote on every contentious political topic for every bill, so Reid has to make a decision when to cut off the amendment process and start moving towards passing the underlying bill. In this case, Reid allowed two Democratic amendments and two Republican amendments to be voted on before filing a motion to end debate and move forward towards passage. But since most senators didn’t get to have their pet amendments voted on, they voted against the motion to end debate and essentially forced a filibuster. Even Sen. James Inhofe [R, OK], an original co-sponsor of the bill, voted for the filibuster.

And so gridlock prevails, even on the one issue that everyone claims to care about — job creation. Just another example of why Americans have less confidence in Congress than any other institution in American society.

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