Thursday, August 20, 2009

Be Careful What You Ask For

In 2004, alarmed at the prospect of Mitt Romney appointing a replacement for John Kerry should he become president, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law stripping the governor of the power to fill vacant Senate seats, demanding a special election to be held no fewer than 145 days after the seat becomes vacant. The law never had to be applied.

Now Ted Kennedy has asked the legislature to amend the law to allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint an interim Senator to fill the gap between the time Kennedy may be unable to serve and the election, so the “Commonwealth [will] have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election."

Of course, it’s health care reform that’s on Kennedy’s mind. He’s the magic 60th vote the Democrats need to invoke cloture in the event of a Republican filibuster. That vote won’t wait five months. Even if Kennedy resigned today, it would be too late.

This is why it’s never a good idea to change established law to accommodate a temporary situation. Massachusetts panicked at the prospect of Republican Romney appointing Kerry’s replacement; their remedy now prevents Democrat (and Obama supporter) Patrick from appointing Kennedy’s.

Republicans who were hot to do away with filibusters several years ago would do well to remember this. No political situation is permanent. Without the threat of filibuster in the Senate, they’d be powerless to stop a health care bill they’d like even less than any of the current options. Not saying whether that’s a good things, or a bad thing. Just that it’s wise to remember the sun doesn’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day.

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