The Clay Pigeon

The arcane procedural tactic known as the “clay pigeon” almost made a comeback on the Senate floor Tuesday, as Republicans came very close to approving a plan to rollback a $245 million budget increase approved last year for the Congress.

Pushing the “clay pigeon” again was Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who has emerged as the closest thing I have seen to the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), in terms of a Senator who can singlehandedly disrupt the operations of the Senate with amendments.

Helms was legendary for suddenly showing up on the floor with a first and second degree amendment that no one knew about, basically putting him in charge of proceedings.

Coburn’s last battle again sparked outrage on the Republican side over a ruling by the Parliamentarian Alan Frumin.

Let’s put it this way – if Republicans take over the Senate anytime soon – Frumin will be looking for work.

Tuesday evening, he ruled against Coburn’s attempt to use the “clay pigeon”, which is basically a procedural tool that separates amendments into distinct parts, and allows votes on each one.

In other words, you have a big amendment which is then broken into many amendments.

Coburn tried to split his amendment to a bill dealing with the nation’s Debt Limit into 17 different pieces, which would have stalled Senate work on the underlying bill.

The Parliamentarian ruled that Coburn did not have the right to do that, because his amendment was part of a broader unanimous consent agreement that governed how the bill would proceed.  Under that Coburn had been granted one amendment.

Ultimately, Democrats agreed to split it into four parts, one of which narrowly failed.  That would have overturned a $245 million budget increase for the Congress.

The vote was 48-46 against the Coburn plan.  Only one Republican voted no, that was the retiring Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO).

More interesting were the eight Democrats who voted with Coburn, and almost provided the margin of victory, Bayh (IN), Bennet (CO), Feingold (WI), Klobuchar (MN), Kohl (WI), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO) and Udall (CO).

Four of those eight, Bayh, Bennet, Feingold and Lincoln are running for their seats this November.

Usually, Coburn has a hard time getting 25 votes.  But now, deficit reduction is cool, and the Republicans know they can put the heat on a lot of Democratic incumbents.

This could be a fun year on the budget cutting vote front.