Senate Parliamentarian Hired By Republicans

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Aug 19, 2009 at 12:29

The emerging idea that the Senate Parliamentarian has the final say over whether health care can be passed under reconciliation is just flat-out wrong. The current Senate Parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, was hired by Republicans when they were in the majority, but only after Republicans had fired a previous Parliamentarian for not ruling in their favor. From The Hill (emphasis mine):

The fate of healthcare reform may come down to the decisions of one unelected congressional officer: Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin.

Frumin will decide which proposals can be passed through a special budget process Democrats are considering to move healthcare reform this year. Bills submitted through the process, known as reconciliation, aren't subject to filibusters, meaning Democrats would need only 51 votes - and probably no Republicans - to win approval.(...)

"It's horrible," said Robert Dove, Frumin's predecessor as Senate parliamentarian. "It's absolutely horrible. It puts the parliamentarian in a terrible position. I have done it myself and been extraordinarily criticized. I assume he will be also."(...)

Dove was fired in 2001 (Frumin replaced him) after Republican senators, then in the majority, disputed several of his rulings. Dove, who was hired by GOP senators, had decided that parts of a Republican tax cut plan couldn't be passed through the reconciliation process because to do so would have enlarged the federal deficit.

It is bullshit to claim that Senate Democrats have no choice but to accept the decisions of a single, unelected guy who was hired by Republicans in order to give Republicans favorable interpretations of Senate procedure. That is just a pathetic example of abdicating any responsibility and a declaration that there is a complete lack of Democratic leadership over the Senate. Oh, I know we were elected by the American people, but we have no choice but to follow the rulings of this one unelected guy who Republicans hired to give them favorable rulings.

Absolute. Bullshit.

The fact is that Democrats only need 50 votes, plus the Vice-President, to sustain a ruling from the chair that they are ignoring the interpretation of Senate Parliamentarian and moving forward regardless of what he says. That is a fact. They are not powerless before the unelected, Republican-hired Parliamentarian.

Claims that Democrats have no power but to accept the interpretation of the Parliamentarian are simply opposition to health care reform by another name. Democrats were elected by the American people, at least partially because we have a health care crisis. Their power and their mandate is not entirely voided by byzantine Senate process. If Democrats are fine with passing health care reform with only 51 votes, then there is nothing stopping them from doing so.

The American people elected Senators, not the Senate Parliamentarian. The Senate is controlled by Senators, not the Senate Parliamentarian. Passing health care reform is a lot more important than respecting Senate tradition.

Update: Let me summarize this quickly and clearly:

  1. There are rules of process in place that would allow Democrats to pass health care reform (or anything, for that matter), with 51 votes in the Senate.

  2. Whether or not Senate Democrats decide to go that route is a choice. They are not forced to go down the 60 vote path.
Bottom line: using 60 votes or 51 votes is a choice. Democrats are not forced down the 60 vote path.
Chris Bowers :: Senate Parliamentarian Hired By Republicans

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That is my understanding (0.00 / 0)
And remember the Chair is Joe Biden.

For that matter (0.00 / 0)
since when has a single committee been allowed to stop the entire government? I'm sure there are ways to leapfrog over Baucus.

And aren't committee assignments and privelages a caucus decision?

I am not an expert on the Senate's rules, but I suspect that if the Dems really wanted to, they could have forced the bill out of the committee, ignored the SFC altogether, or removed Baucus and Conrad from their seats. At the very least, they could have demanded that Baucus open up the conversation to the rest of his own committee. That's amazing...he has been allowed to ignore the House and the rest of the Senate, and basically set up his own reconciliation committee.

This has all the feel of a charade....the great majority of the Senate Dems have chosen not to act in any way...they appear to be giving Baucus and Conrad a quiet vote of approval.

[ Parent ]
re (0.00 / 0)
I suspect that if the Dems really wanted to, they could have ... removed Baucus and Conrad from their seats

who? the democrats?

reid remove two senators from their chairs? yeah right...

[ Parent ]
got any comments on the rules? (0.00 / 0)
It seems your position is that the parlimentarian can and will just make up anything he pleases.  I just don't understand that.  It appears that there really are quite restrictive rules and precedents on what can be passed.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

The Senate doesn't have to follow the parliamentarian (4.00 / 2)
The point is that the Senate doesn't have to follow the parliamentarian. They can ignore him if they want to.

[ Parent ]
Ah! Hmm, I think that was missing in the story, or not? (0.00 / 0)
But that's the decisive point.

[ Parent ]
Oops, my fault. I once again skipped a whole paragraph. (0.00 / 0)
Damn, I dunno what's the problem with my reading recently...

[ Parent ]
sure, and anything the President does is legal (0.00 / 0)
I must be missing something, I just don't understand what you are saying. Most senators will follow the Senate's rules. I understand that it is theoretically possible that one could rule that making insurance companies treat pre-existing conditions is about the federal budget, but it is hard to see how anyone could honestly believe it.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
True, but... (0.00 / 0)
While I agree with you, the filibuster itself isn't supposed to work the way it is today.  Even if you view what Chris suggests as a pure power grab (and really, how could you not), the result would be to return the senate to majority rule.  (At least when the VP is of the same party.)

No one in the public would follow this detail despite all the complaints from Republicans.  A new precedent would be set in a good way, I think.

[ Parent ]
I agree about the filibuster (0.00 / 0)
I too would like to see a strong move made against it.

But fundamentally, the problem is the actual Senate rules.  These are the rules that have been in place for a long time and are widely accepted (by those involved, of course ordinary people don't know anything about it.)  Chris's complaint seems to me to focus on the parlimentarian and imply he is some hack -- as I link below this seems to be a smear -- and the Democratic senators for following the (semi?) legitimate rules.  It's not some BS excuse, those really are the rules.  

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
Your own words belie your argument (4.00 / 1)
These are the rules that have been in place for a long time and are widely accepted (by those involved, of course ordinary people don't know anything about it.)

There are rules that allow the circumvention of those rules, too. However, Senators don't use the circumvention because they don't want to, not because they can't.

This isn't a question of process, because process exists to pass this with 51 votes. Democrats can choose or not choose to follow that route. But it is a choice, not something they are forced into doing.

[ Parent ]
Republican hired (4.00 / 1)
On the other hand, I'm not sure "Republican hired" is the right way to look at it.  What Republicans were looking for at the time was someone who would rule they could do more through reconciliation.  If he is consistent, that would actually be good for us.  His choice may not have been based on any left versus right bias.

Just a thought.

Uh, no prolly not. (0.00 / 0)
I'm sure they didn't look for someone who would apply the reconciliation rule more liberally, but for someone who wouldn't have stings of conscience if he bent the rules in favor of the rethuglicans. And only for the rethuglicans.

So, sorry, but afaics there is nothing that supports your view they hired an honest person who just sees rules in a different way. This simply doesn't sound like them.

[ Parent ]
you are 100% wrong (4.00 / 1)
Read this NYT profile:

The parliamentarians, then, are ''the keeper of what has been done in the past,'' said Sarah Binder, an expert on Congress at the Brookings Institution, a research organization. Training is on the job, with apprenticeships that last a decade or more. Although the parliamentarian is an employee of the secretary of the Senate (who is appointed by the majority leader), the occupant of the office typically hires his own assistants. In this way, each parliamentarian has hired his own successor, though Mr. Dove fears that that may be changing.


Mr. Frumin, 52, a New York native, who graduated from Colgate University and earned his law degree at Georgetown, joined the parliamentarian's office as an assistant in 1977, after three years spent editing a book of precedents in the House Parliamentarian's office. He has twice replaced Mr. Dove as parliamentarian, first in 1987 when Democrats moved Mr. Dove out, and then again in 2001 when Mr. Lott arranged for Mr. Dove to be fired.

The guy was Dove's deputy, he was the only possible replacement. He was hired in 1977!  

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
I would say, only 50%, because they certainly would have tried that... (0.00 / 0)
..if they would have had the choice. Only the fact that their choices are very limited, with only a handful of peopel being able to step in, prevented that.

However, good point, Hopeful. Important link, a "must read" for the issue.

[ Parent ]
But, this doesn't sound good: (4.00 / 1)
"parts of a Republican tax cut plan couldn't be passed through the reconciliation process because to do so would have enlarged the federal deficit."

Well, even if the bill will "only" cost less than a trillion dollars, I guess it will still enlarge the federal deficit, or not? It has to be counterfinanced by tax reform, and that's in another bill, right? So, where do you get the idea that there's a good argument to be made to bring Frumin, who certainly was selected because of being a stubborn right winger, to accept the reconcilation?

Better fire that guy first. No fooling around. You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs.  

ANOTHER arcane bullshit reason for sell outs and doormats (0.00 / 0)
to sell out and or be doormats.

how the fuck are ANY of these sell out pieces of shit representing the bottom 90%+++++ of us working stiffs?


It is too full o' the milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way

Why haven't the Dems replaced this guy already? (4.00 / 2)
We've been the majority party since 2006 and we have a partisan parliamentarian telling us what can and cannot be done?

Reid is the absolute worst Senate leader ever?

John McCain won't insure children

what evidence is there that he is partisan? (0.00 / 0)
I'd like to see some.  The linked article notes that he has ruled against Republican tax bills (in 2003), and he certainly seems to be qualified:

Frumin was criticized in 2003, first by Republicans after he ruled that they couldn't use reconciliation rules to consider a $350 billion tax cut bill. A few weeks later, he piqued Democrats by dismissing as out of order several of their amendments to a Defense Department authorization  bill.

Frumin, who normally sits below the presiding officer on the Senate dais, has worked in the parliamentarian's office since 1977. He went to college at Colgate, has a law degree from Georgetown and has co-authored a book on Senate rules.

Where are the quotes showing Frumin is some sort of unqualified political hack?  

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
in fact, it appear Democrats fired Dove in 1987 too (4.00 / 1)
This 2003 profile is worth reading.  Frumin was hired and trained by Dove, so this idea that he is a partisan hack is completely baseless.  The article claims he also became parlimentarian in 1987 when Democrats got mad at Dove.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
Ok, this info puts this in a differrent light (0.00 / 0)
However, if he is an honest guy, what advantage did the GOP get from the exchange? I stand by my assumption that this wouldnb't be typical for them. Or are there rules preventing them from hiring just anybody, limiting their choices?

[ Parent ]
I think (0.00 / 0)
they thought anyone was an improvement.  And, after all, it send a pretty powerful message to Frumin and anyone else that they would fire you.  I couldn't comment on the rules, but the implication of the article is that the Senate rules and precedents are so complicated it would very hard to find anyone who could even pretend to do the job.  And they always say that the minority party can make a lot of a trouble delaying things so that you couldn't just do anything you like.  

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
Or (0.00 / 0)
They were being petty and fired him for punitive reasons, even though deep down they knew it wouldn't change anything in the future.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Ok, read the story now, they really had only limited choices. (0.00 / 0)
So, this explains it.

[ Parent ]
He was hired by the GOP as a substitute for a guy who applied the rules fairly! (4.00 / 2)
Now, tell me, how high is the chance that they hired another honest guy? They wanted to push their bills through, they didn't care about his character! Sorry, but it is only reasonable to assume he is a crook.  

[ Parent ]
Because Parliamentarians (0.00 / 0)
are almost never fired when party control switches hands because it's a non-partisan job.  

[ Parent ]
Not with Republicans (0.00 / 0)
Every job is a partisan job with Republicans.  Since they don't believe in government it becomes merely a scheme to grab and hold power for the benefit of their donor class (of course they benefit as well through cushy jobs and contacts).

[ Parent ]
We're not them (0.00 / 0)
the biggest problem we're having right now is the Democrats are trying very hard to be, you know, democratic, to make the government work the way it should

and it's not working because a group supported by 45% of the country is acting recklessly.  

[ Parent ]
Bob Dove (4.00 / 1)
who I've had as a professor, is a wonderful and incredibly smart man who, as mentioned in the article, was fired for nothing but political reasons.  I'd be surprised if anyone in this country (incl. Senator Byrd) knew as much about the Senate as Dove.

Netroots for Gore

Filibuster (4.00 / 1)
As a side note, the filibuster itself could be eliminated using the same technique.

Rather than eliminate, which I support, lower the threshold to 50%. (0.00 / 0)
Filibuster yes, super majority no. The Repug's will say its the same thing as eliminate, we will say democracy really needs to be trusted and respected.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
ew, clever (4.00 / 1)
I like it.

The filibuster as currently practiced is unconstitutional.  It really is.  That is the starting point.

[ Parent ]
lol (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Oh, it's the nuclear option again? (0.00 / 0)
Imagine the outcry if the Dems use that to push their bill through! No, that's totally illusory. Only a theoretical alternative.

[ Parent ]
I wish the Republicans did it. (4.00 / 2)
Many on the left supported the "nuclear option" back when the Republicans suggested it.  Overall, the high threshold of blocking legislation is good for them, not us.

[ Parent ]
Fine (4.00 / 1)
Good. Let's do it.

[ Parent ]
Re-Hire Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove (4.00 / 1)
Case closed, no arguments, its self-evidently repairing the situation, self evidently not a political move, self evidently proves that replacing the Parliamentarian is fine with republicans, and he was originally appointed from the office of Senator Dole.

I dont know how old he is now, he's on faculty at George Washington University right now.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

But, as his quote shows, he wouldn't allow reconcilation in that case! (0.00 / 0)
Or is there any doubt that the bill WILL raise the deficit?

[ Parent ]
I thought the funding had already been passed in Obamas first budget? (4.00 / 1)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Maybe I misinterpreted this remark (0.00 / 0)
I have done it myself and been extraordinarily criticized. I assume he will be also.

If I did, then lets hope he enjoys his retirement.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
The Dims Are DESPARATE For ANY Excuse (0.00 / 0)
To avoid pissing off their CorpoRat beneficiaries--and, not incidentally, drying up their benificences--that they'll jump at any bullshit expedient to give up on reconciliation, under terms of which they'd just about HAVE to PASS something their pay-masters would find objectionable.

So if they have to admit their powerlesness before a GOP hireling, they'll GLADLY do so, because their honor is of far less value (honor?) than the campaign contributions they'd have to forego if they acted "honorably," not to mention "Competently."

Try decaf. (4.00 / 2)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
"51 votes in the Senate" - this means, 50 + Biden, right? (4.00 / 1)
The difference between 50 Senators and 51 could be crucial...

Rules (0.00 / 0)
If you are interested in the actual rules, go here.    There is also a link to a very detailed pdf at that site.

It doesn't look like this backs Chris up, but it does.  Download the pdf and search for "chair" to quickly see that.

Nice to see I'm not the only one noticing this. (0.00 / 0)
I linked a few, uh, links, saying similar things in a quick hit not so long ago.

As Matt Yglesias likes to say, the Senate is the sole arbiter of its own rules, and 50 Senators plus Joe Biden can do pretty much whatever the hell it is they want, if they want to.


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