In a show of protest against health care reform, Senate Republicans have, for two days, blocked hearings in committees that occur beyond two hours of the Senate being in session, this according to a senior Senate GOP leadership aide.
This is a little-used right of senators is called the "two hour rule," and has been invoked by members of both parties in the past as a show of opposition to some policy or action.
Today's objection, made behind the scenes to Democratic leadership, affected a handful of committees that wanted to meet after 11a.m. ET: the Armed Services Committee hearing on a portion of the Defense Department's budget; the Homeland Security Committee hearing on Afghan Police training.
The Appropriations Committee, however, is exempt from the "two hour rule," so a hearing on the budget of the Office of Personnel Management will go forward as planned.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, released the following statement to reporters, “For a second straight day, Republicans are using tricks to shut down several key Senate committees. So let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings? These political games and obstruction have to stop...”
Republicans are, indeed, angry about health care, and to some degree are powerless to stop it, at this point. They might be able to affect some changes in the current bill, but it appears the House would approve minor changes rather quickly.
It is unclear for how long this anger will linger and possibly poison the overall agenda of the Senate. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, has said he's done with immigration compromise talks, for instance, because Democrats have fast-tracked overall health care reform.
Could the agenda be in peril? Likely only time will tell.
But to be clear, both parties have used this rule. In September 2006, Democrats used the two-hour rule twice to stop the Judiciary Committee from considering the National Security Surveillance Act. In July 2004, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, stopped the Commerce Committee from considering nominees to the Federal Trade Commission by invoking the two-hour rule. Republicans, in their turn, stopped two Judiciary Committee hearings on back-to-back days, both in the middle of witness testimony, to protest interrogation techniques being examined in one hearing and regulatory issues in the other.