U.S. Senate needs a man like Mike Ditka

Guest Columnist

Too bad Mike Ditka withdrew his name from the U.S. Senate race in Illinois because that bunch on Capitol Hill needs a tough guy to shape them up.

Ditka, known for his bluntness and hair-trigger temper, is a former Chicago Bears all-pro tight end and football coach – a no-nonsense guy who at times went nose-to-nose with his players if he thought they weren’t giving their best.

Republicans courted Ditka to replace Jack Ryan, who dropped out of the race after a court unsealed Ryan’s divorce file, in which his wife had accused him of forcing her to go to sex clubs. After thinking about the race, Ditka declined, saying the offer came five or six years too late.

That is unfortunate, because if any group needs a good swift kick, it is the U.S. Senate.

For example, their favorite tactic today is to threaten a filibuster to kill a bill before the senators even have a chance to vote on it. The only way to head off a filibuster is a process called “cloture.” Unique to the Senate, cloture requires the votes of 60 of the 100 senators to end the debate and force a vote – a difficult task in todays evenly split Senate. Consequently, the minority party can kill bills supported by the majority party simply by never letting them come up for a vote.

Another favorite maneuver is for opponents to load up a piece of legislation with so many non-related amendments that supporters can no longer vote for their own bill.

A recent example, the debacle over S. 2062-legislation restoring fairness to class action lawsuits. Opponents were threatening to filibuster the bill, so supporters tried to get a cloture vote. But in exchange for supporting cloture, opponents tried to turn the bill into a “Christmas tree” by hanging a ton of unrelated amendments on it.

For example, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) wanted to attach an unrelated amendment raising the minimum wage, while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wanted an unrelated amendment on global warming.

When it came time to consider the bill, Republican leaders said “no” to all the amendments and senators like Washington’s Maria Cantwell (D) – who had publicly said she supported class action fairness – voted against cloture and the bill died. So effectively, they voted against class action fairness without being required to vote on the bill itself.

Cantwell wasn’t the only senator to go south on the cloture vote, 43 others did as well. The anti-cloture vote was cast mostly by Democrats, but McCain and Idaho Republican Larry Craig joined Cantwell and Washington’s Patty Murray, a staunch opponent of class action reform, asbestos fairness and medical malpractice legal reform.

Thirteen others helped kill the bill by skipping the cloture vote entirely, including Democrats John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, and Republicans Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado and Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum.

Mike Ditka would have been enraged by all the political jockeying. In Ditka’s world, players are paid to play, and they’d better be on crutches if they want to sit on the sidelines. Likewise, senators are paid to vote on legislation, not engage in parliamentary maneuvers to avoid an official vote.

One could imagine that, had Ditka been in the Senate, politicians would have been flying around the Senate chambers in something resembling a Friday night free for all at the local pub.

Ditka’s style doesn’t lend itself to the culture and character of the esteemed U.S. Senate, but it would be worth the price of admission to watch him shake up that crowd.

Bring on Ditka!

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.