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Rand Paul's Resistance

His party's leadership put a stop to a reasonable request. Plus, Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Blocked.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate was in the spotlight Thursday, and it sure didn't look good.

Granted, credit is due to Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer and their parties for reaching a new budget agreement. Even though it took them until February -- and they still have to actually write the spending bills that were due in October. Still, putting aside the question of whether the bill is good policy or not, at least they finally got it done.

U.S. Budget Frees Up Government to Spend Trillions

But it was so last-minute that they weren't able to vote on it until technically after the midnight deadline, when funding expired for much of the government.

In fact, the agreement was ready much earlier. But it needed unanimous consent to reach an immediate vote, and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul objected because he wanted to offer an amendment and McConnell refused to allow it. The majority leader said that he couldn't give Paul an opportunity because then everyone would want to offer amendments. To which I'd say: Well, isn't that what the Senate is supposed to do? 

No, McConnell didn't have to allow an unlimited number of amendments. But in the old days -- just a few years ago -- senators were capable of reaching an agreement to limit the number of amendments and the time spent on each one. The Senate in the 1990s and 2000s was governed by these "unanimous consent agreements," some of which were fairly simple but many of which could be fairly complex. For the most part, they successfully protected the majority party's interests while letting senators have a chance to make meaningful contributions. 

But all that has faded away. The main culprit seems to have been former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, and now McConnell has followed Reid's pattern and probably made it even worse. The goal doesn't appear to be protecting the underlying bill; leaders can do that by, for example, setting a 60-vote threshold for any amendment to pass, something that Reid also pioneered. (There's some question about whether Reid did that to ward off amendments, or as a reaction to Republican filibusters against Democratic amendments.) Simply doing away with amendments, however, has never been the way the Senate works. And this was particularly egregious, coming as it did on what may have been the most important bill of the entire session. 

As far as I can tell, all that's happening here is leaders protecting senators from having to cast tough votes. There's no good reason for it. They certainly could have made an agreement to allow, say, four amendments from both parties to be offered -- and they could still have finished before midnight.

1. Dan Drezner on Donald Trump's macroeconomic policy. OK as far as it goes, but a bit too presidency-focused for my tastes; Trump has been willing to sign, but the main actors here have been in Congress, not the White House. 

2. Noam Gidron on nationalism.

3. Dahlia Lithwick on Rob Porter and all those who looked the other way. 

4. Stephen Gandel at Bloomberg Gadfly on a president who doesn't understand the stock market.

5. Greg Sargent on the next steps on immigration

6. And I'm skeptical about what the Tea Party really wanted, but I think Philip Klein gets this right: Republican priorities "are lower taxes and higher military spending, and they are willing to accede to growth in entitlements and other government programs if that is what it takes to secure their first two goals." 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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