A few weeks ago, I visited Washington and dropped in on my New Mexico Congressional delegation. Senator Tom Udall shared his thoughts on The Constitutional Option, a rules change at the beginning of the next Congress enabling the Senate to move forward with 51 votes. (More)
Nobody yet knows what the next Congress will look like. Blue dogs and conservative Dems are likely to have been obliterated by a mixture of Tea Party Republicans and Deepest Cerulean Donkeys. Rovian corporatists may end up struggling with tea party activists in Nazi regalia over whether their party panders to CEOs or tries to emulate East Germany while not playing with our privates.
Who knows what the White House will look like now that Rahm, Axelrod and Summers are bidding adieu.
Hopefully, in this unruly new world, a bluer brand of Democrat will find ways to pass bluer laws, bluing our skies with green energy and bluing the Gulf with a moratorium on murky brown oil spills.
Will the Constitutional Option play a role in the restoration of sanity?
I apologize in advance for the quality of the video and for the time lag between shooting and posting. This is my first ever attempt to edit and post video myself.
Part 1: The Constitutional Option
TFLS: And so my question for you today is, I want you to tell me what the Constitutional Option is and for the folks who will be listening, a lot of them are people who really care about health care reform. So if we had a Constitutional Option, how might that bill look different and how could it be different and how could it be different in the future.
Senator Udall: Sure. The first thing for people to really understand about the Constitutional Option is that people are frustrated with the rules of the Senate and I don’t blame them. The reason they’re frustrated is because when we campaigned and when President Obama campaigned, we were gonna do all these great things, make these great changes, move the nation forward, and that’s not happening as quickly as we would want it to happen. So that’s a critical issue — that we’re not getting the change that people want. And so what the Constitutional Option is about is doing rules reform in the Senate at the beginning of a Congress and the crucial thing is that at the beginning of Congress you can set rules with 51 Senators. You can end the debate and you can adopt new rules. Now is the time for rules reform.
Now the background for this is very important because three vice presidents have already ruled that at the beginning of a Congress, you can change the rules with 51 votes. Also there is a very strong constitutional principal and that constitutional principal is one legislature cannot bind a subsequent legislature. What we’re talking about there – let’s use health care reform as your example – if we had passed health care reform and put a provision in the bill that said the next Congress is going to need seventy-five votes to change this proposal, that would be unconstitutional. And so essentially what’s happened is that we are bound by a previous Senate. The last Senate to change the rules in this area was in 1975. Ninety-eight members of the Senate have never voted for rules change because we’ve been bound by that previous action.
So that’s where we are. We’ve been trying to get filibuster reform. There’s been a lot of press coverage of it. The New Yorker has done a piece about authored by George Packer. There’s a lot of information out there about how the Senate’s broken and what are the ways we need fix it. I’m leading out on this rules reform and the Constitutional Option
Part 2: The Constitutional Option Would Have Enabled a Public Option
TU: I believe, Lauren, that every single one of our citizens should have health care. And they should have good, quality health care in their local communities. And so that’s why, when we brought up the health care bill, there was a big fight over what was called the public option. And what the public option was all about was setting up enough competition so that we could see which was the best way to move. Do we want a non-profit pursuing health care? Or do we want insurance companies pursuing health care? And that was the big fight we had on the Senate floor. I was obviously for having a public option and moving in that direction. If we were able to refine the rules and reform the rules, I think we would be getting closer to a public option than the bill we passed.
I would still say the bill we passed had some important provisions. You know, we bring 30 million new people into the system. Those are the estimates. We take care of pre-existing conditions, so people can’t be barred because of pre-existing conditions. And as of today, if you’re a young person and you can’t get insurance out of the market, up to the age of 26 you can stay on your parents’ policy. That’s a big thing for people to be able to do. And there are going to be insurance exchanges, more competition and trying to get cost control in the future, all of those kind of things.
But the real issue here is the Senate should be producing on the change the American people want. And the Senate’s broken now, and so I’m trying to lead out on reform.
TFLS: And so how does that look? I guess you can’t really know if you have the votes if you don’t know who’s in the Senate but–
TU: Well, we have an election so a third of the new Senators will be coming in. A couple of things we know. First of all, Harry Reid has said, if he returns – and I think he’s going to return – he thinks there should be rules reform, and he’s given two great examples. These are sports examples, but he’s said, you know, when they had the spitball, they tolerated it for awhile, but then the ball got so soggy it was dangerous, and they banned the spitball. In basketball, when they had the procedure of players being in the four corners of the court and just tossing the ball around and not trying to get a basket and wasting time? Well, they created the four corner rule and they banned that kind of activity.
And [Reid] said, “That’s abuse.” When you have abuse – and that’s what we have now – abuse of the rules by Mitch McConnell and his team. So what we’re going to do is make that clear to the American people and move with the Constitutional Option to change the rules so that the majority can govern. But we’re not going to deny the minority the right to make their points and be heard.
TFLS: Okay! Thank you!
TU: Is that good? Did I hit it on the head?