Henry Adams wrote in 1907 that “[John] Hay took to studying the ‘Diary’ of John Quincy Adams eighty years before, and calculated that the resistance [in the senate] had increased about ten times, as measured by waste of days and increase in effort, although Secretary of State J.Q. Adams thought himself very hardly treated… The senate was no worse than the board of a university; but incorporators as a rule have not made this class of men dictators to prevent action. In the senate, a single vote commonly stopped legislation, or, in committees, stifled discussion.”

For some reason, this passage came to mind as I watched media coverage of the senate health care debate. The Senate Finance Committee is currently voting on changes to the Baucus health care bill, to which Republican members have proposed 543 amendments. There was something of a kerfuffle when Republican Whip Jon Kyl, still insisting that health care costs can be kept down by preventing medical malpractice suits, became indignant when Chairman Baucus accused him of delaying. Sen. Kyl protested, “Mr. Chairman, I am not delaying; I’m making an extremely important point!” To which Sen. Baucus wryly responded, “Yes, a very, very important point…and you’re also delaying.”

Whereas the rhetoric of the House is often transparently insane (I’m looking at you, Rep. Foxx!), the thrust and parry of the senate is endlessly amusing. Senators, by and large, have an almost innate sense of decorum, which they exploit mercilessly. Yes, nuisance malpractice suits are a drag on the system, but everyone knows that, especially the members of the Senate Finance Committee. Therefore, Sen. Kyl can actually delay, while making a valid, if tired, point. And while I’m not great fan of Sen. Baucus, I must applaud his deft riposte.

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