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Posted at 3:03 PM ET, 01/27/2011

Did Reid and McConnell just doom future filibuster reform?

By Greg Sargent

So Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell have reached a deal under which both have vowed never to pass any rules reforms via the "Constitutional option," which only requires a simple majority vote. The idea is that if one side rams through reforms this way, the other will retaliate when it gains the majority. Take this option off the table, and future reforms will only pass with bipartisan support.

But on the Senate floor today, Tom Udall offered a very strong counter-argument, suggesting that this agreement nixes the possibility of any meaningful reforms in the future:

Udall's argument: If Democrats hadn't threatened to pass filibuster reforms via a simple majority, the issue would have been a non-starter from the very beginning. If the reforms being championed by Udall, Tom Harkin and Jeff Merkley could only pass with 67 votes, everyone could have safely ignored them and the issue would have received no attention.

As Udall put it, the current discussion wouldn't have happened at all "if we hadn't utilized our rights under the Constitution, if we hadn't pushed this very hard and said we are trying to round up 51 senators that will stand up with us and say we want change in this institution."

By agreeing to take this option off the table, of course, Reid and McConnell have effectively ensured that this leverage won't be available in the future. As Ezra Klein explains, this ensures that "the minority is not on notice that further abuse of the filibuster (and associated stalling tactics) could lead to more significant reforms."

In fairness to Reid, the broader package of reforms contemplated by the younger Senators probably couldn't even have passed via the simple majority. And the reforms he did secure are important. But by agreeing to never utilize this tactic in the future, Reid and McConnell have just rendered significant future reforms far less likely. There will be no incentive to try to fix, or even to stop indulging in, the very practice that led to all the talk of reform in the first place: The ongoing abuse of the 60-vote threshold in order to grind the body to a halt.

There's a larger point here worth pondering. The mere prospect of changing the rules via a simple majority vote was the only thing that could force the Senate as a body to even begin to debate rules changes that would dilute the power of individual Senators. By removing that option, Reid and McConnell have effectively insulated that power. Super-majority rule not only enhances the power of individual Senators; it also makes that power virtually untouchable. The Senate's undemocratic features are self reinforcing. And that pretty much sums up what the Senate is all about.

UPDATE, 12:00 p.m.: A clarification: The deal Reid and McConnell reached would only take the "Constitutional option" off the table for four years, not for the foreseeable future. So it's possible that it could again be used as leverage sooner rather than later, and it's wrong of me to say definitively that it won't be used again while Reid and McConnell are in power. It is fair, however, to ask whether Reid and McConnell are effectively signaling that this is the case.

By Greg Sargent  | January 27, 2011; 3:03 PM ET
Categories:  Senate Dems, Senate Republicans, filibuster  
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Next: Happy Hour Roundup

Comments

Seems to me that no one can bind future congressional leaders to take or not take any reforms, and I would question how bound the current leaders feel.

Posted by: 12BarBluesAgain | January 27, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

What 12BB said.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | January 27, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

"The mere prospect of changing the rules via a simple majority vote is the only thing that could force the Senate as a body to even begin to debate rules changes that would dilute the power of individual Senators."

Is that a fact? I don't think so.

The people vote for the Senators - if the people get fed up then they will vote those preventing change out. I'm not buying this line of argument.

Posted by: sbj3 | January 27, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

sbj -- in this particular case, is what I'm referring to. I should have said "was."

and others, agreed, it might not be binding on future leaders.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | January 27, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I changed to "was."

Posted by: Greg Sargent | January 27, 2011 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Take this option off the table, and future reforms will only pass with bipartisan support.

______________


Nuance: Greg still doesn't understand how the real world works.


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | January 27, 2011 3:33 PM | Report abuse

When Harry Met Mitch.

If Mitch starts to act out the Meg Ryan restaurant scene, run for your lives.

Greg,

Since they did not even mention it, I think that Harry and Mitch have also doomed the use of the phrase; "American Exceptionalism" for all time.

Kathleen Parker is sure to unleash her inner Palin over that, and Speaker Boehner is going to have to start wearing a flotation device, to keep from drowning in his own tears.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Boy, having Reid reelected just keeps paying off. Heckuva job Harry!

Posted by: TrollMcWingnut | January 27, 2011 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Take this option off the table, and future reforms will only pass with bipartisan support.

______________


Nuance: Greg still doesn't understand how the real world works.


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | January 27, 2011 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Liam!

Good to have you back.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | January 27, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

What part of power escapes attention here? Of course the senators won't willing do anything that will diminish their power. That's why they wanted to be senators to begin with. Both parties. all of them.

Ditto the congress. These people are in it for power. If they weren't term limits legislation would sail right through.

so congress is about power, the judiciary is about power, the executive is about power. the standing government is about power.

Time for us to break out that old Beatles tune:

Power to the people, right on.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | January 27, 2011 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I am starting to feel that Tom Udall is getting a little too big for his britches, when it comes to Senate rules.

The agreement is only in place for this Congress, and can not legally bind the new Congress that will assembly in 2013.

Which every party has control of the Senate then, can use the very same tactics, that Udall tried, in order to gain some concessions, just like Harry did this time.

The Senate should not be just a carbon copy of the House, where everything can be passed or repealed, without the minority party having any way to slow things down.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

12Bar:

""Seems to me that no one can bind future congressional leaders to take or not take any reforms, and I would question how bound the current leaders feel.""

I was thinking precisely the same thing.

Posted by: ScottC3 | January 27, 2011 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, these changes tend to happen incrementally. Obviously the last four years have shown the need to go back to a simple majority as the Constitution says it should be. But filibuster reform has always been incremental and I think we'll keep working in that direction.

Posted by: DDAWD | January 27, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

But filibuster reform has always been incremental and I think we'll keep working in that direction.
---------------------------------------------------
I am not a student of this reform, so I could be totally wrong.

With that in mind, it seems that incremental reform is about right. Both sides of the aisle have to become comfortable with both sides of the issue, since they change places. I'm assuming that this change is a positive one?

Posted by: 12BarBluesAgain | January 27, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

"Obviously the last four years have shown the need to go back to a simple majority."

Not!

Posted by: sbj3 | January 27, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

"Did Reid and McConnell just doom future filibuster reform?"

Could also be changed to read:

"Did Reid and McConnell just doom future Health Care Repeal?"

Posted by: jnc4p | January 27, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

@Greg

Two things:

First, the agreement not to change the rules via 50 votes is being spoken about as for "This, and the next Congress". This would mean the 112th & 113th...not beyond. Also being between Reid/McConnell means all bets are off if they aren't their party's leader (though it seems like we'll reach 114th before that happens to either side).

Second, it's a "Gentlemen's Agreement" between Reid and McConnell. This means that either side could just spin further abuse of the filibuster as breaking the agreement, and just go for the 50-vote change anyways.

I don't think that changing the rules via 50 votes is really "off the table" until it's removed legislatively - which would require a Constitutional Amendment.

That said...it's nice that there were SOME reform, though lame and minor as it may be. We'll see if McConnell/Reid hold up their ends for less filibusters and tree-filling respectively. I don't picture it lasting long, honestly.

Given the inherent disfunction of the Senate, and the complete lack of seniority from those that really think we should change the rules (old gaurd is still in charge), even this step forward is a good thing. I, for one, can't wait until the 2020's when we seen people like Franken, Udall, etc. become the standard bearers for the party.

The arc of history, and all...

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | January 27, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Don't I remember the rightwingnutistan party threatening to "blow up the Senate" if they didn't get their way on nominations leading to the "gang of 14" capitulation by the spineless party?

Now Reid is unwilling to give as good as he got while he was in the minority. This just encourages more bad behavior from tea party central in the Senate.

Based on his current behavior, I bet Reid got his lunch money stolen on a regular basis as a kid...

@Liam: The Senate should not be just a carbon copy of the House, where everything can be passed or repealed, without the minority party having any way to slow things down.

No danger of that now, given the almost totally irrelevant and minor changes agreed to. Couldn't they at least limit themselves to one choke point, not the myriad ways that an individual senator can bring the institution to its knees?

@TMWN: Boy, having Reid reelected just keeps paying off. Heckuva job Harry!

I hate to say it but I agree...After he did get a few things done in the LD session, its back to gridlock as usual.

Posted by: srw3 | January 27, 2011 4:09 PM | Report abuse

"With that in mind, it seems that incremental reform is about right. Both sides of the aisle have to become comfortable with both sides of the issue, since they change places. I'm assuming that this change is a positive one? "

Well, they usually don't get reversed. But even if you look at the 60 vote requirement, it's been shrinking over time.

I guess part of the implication of the Constitution and the vision of the Founding Fathers is that people in government might disagree on policy, but at least have the best interests of the country at heart. Given that this is not the case with Republicans, I don't know that any filibuster reform will be that effective. If Republicans want to gum up the works, they will find some way to do it.

Posted by: DDAWD | January 27, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Boehner and Obama each now has a veto pen.

The Senate and the White House are going to have to make deals with The House Republicans in order to get anything done for the next two years. That is reality; so focus where the real horse trading is going to be done, or not.

If his Tea Party Reps; dig in their heels, Boehner may not be able to cut few,o r any deals with Harry Reid and President Obama.

The House may be gridlocked, and Boehner may be too afraid of The Tea Party, to pass legislation with the help of Democratic votes, to offset the loss of Tea Party Reps.

I am putting the odds at 90% that House Republicans will opt to vote in a solid block, with no defections, for just saying no to President Obama on everything, and in 2012 The House Republicans will stand a good chance of losing most, if not all of their majority margin.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

@DDAWD: If Republicans want to gum up the works, they will find some way to do it.

The point of many of the reforms was to make it obvious who was stopping which bills from being voted on. I don't see this micro change as achieving that...

Posted by: srw3 | January 27, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

OT: "Russo: Tea Party Express Will Not Challenge Hatch in 2012, Calls Senator an ‘Original Tea Partier’"

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/258181/russo-tea-party-express-will-not-challenge-hatch-2012-calls-senator-original-tea-parti

Posted by: sbj3 | January 27, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Wow such agreement!

What 12BB said...what Sue said..and what Scott said.

Posted by: rukidding7 | January 27, 2011 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I knew Orrin was around when the tea was dumped into Boston harbor.

Off course back then, they were protesting against Taxation Without Representation.

The current Tea Party is just a Dyslexic version of that; They are demanding Representation Without Taxation. In other words; Just A Bunch Of Rabid Right Wing Freeloaders.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

OT: "Russo: Tea Party Express Will Not Challenge Hatch in 2012, Calls Senator an ‘Original Tea Partier’"
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Reading the unhappy commenters to the idea that TP Express would endorse moderates like Hatch.

This complainer says it best:

These people take the Tea Party out of "Tea Party".

Posted by: 12BarBluesAgain | January 27, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Per Daniel Foster at The Corner, the Reid and McConnell “handshake agreement” will be enshrined in a colloquy between the two leaders on the Senate floor.

Posted by: sbj3 | January 27, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Glory be! He will walk the earth again!

"Dick Armey: Mike Pence Is The Second Coming Of Reagan"

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/01/dick-armey-mike-pence-is-the-second-coming-of-reagan-video.php?ref=fpb

Clearly, when it comes to saviors, they don't make 'em like they used to.

"FreedomWorks chair Dick Armey didn't hesitate when he was asked on Fox News today to weigh in on the 2012 presidential race. There's one man, Armey said, who can unite the fractured GOP. One man who can bring back Morning In America.

"I always thought I'd only get one Ronald Reagan in my lifetime," Armey said. "Maybe Mike Pence could be that second one."

Note the adjective "fractured".

Posted by: bernielatham | January 27, 2011 4:35 PM | Report abuse

There's one man, Armey said, who can unite the fractured GOP. One man who can bring back Morning In America.

"I always thought I'd only get one Ronald Reagan in my lifetime," Armey said. "Maybe Mike Pence could be that second one."

Note the adjective "fractured".
------------------------------------------------
Note the adjective "Maybe".

Posted by: 12BarBluesAgain | January 27, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Bernie,

I understand that Dick Armey(What a name for The Tea Party General) and The Koch brothers, are pulling strings to have Mike Pence moved to the top of the waiting list for to undergo a Charisma transplant operation.

Suitable Turnips which just fell of the backs of trucks, are being tested for donor compatibility.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 4:43 PM | Report abuse

@Liam - Pense! What is it with this conservative movement that they seem incapable of validating anyone who isn't just plain dumb?

And on that topic, I see Sarah has raised her head above water again to fill us in on the history of the decline of the Soviet Empire and the space race winners and losers. It would take Palin to clarify that rocket science isn't rocket science.

Posted by: bernielatham | January 27, 2011 4:58 PM | Report abuse

"Suitable Turnips which just fell of the backs of trucks, are being tested for donor compatibility."

Ahhh Liam..great to have you back. Does this mean you're over grieving for your beloved "monsters of the midway". Well perhaps Cutler wasn't a monster but Urlacher and the defense gave it their best shot.

Posted by: rukidding7 | January 27, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

"Three sources close to Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana tell CNN they are told he will announce he is not running for president in 2012 and will instead begin exploring a run for governor.

"These sources say he has been flattered by the efforts to nudge him into the GOP presidential race but, as one of the sources put it, "he is a realist and kept coming back to questions about the fund-raising." The second source said some around Pence also have reminded him of the difficulty of mounting a presidential campaign from the House, and noted that, at age 51, he would have a better platform to explore a presidential run if he first was elected governor."

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/27/pence-rules-out-bid-for-president/

via hotair

It's gonna take at least $500,000,000.00 to even compete with Obama... send in a a sacrificial lamb.

Posted by: sbj3 | January 27, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

The second source said some around Pence also have reminded him of the difficulty of mounting a presidential campaign from the House, and noted that, at age 51, he would have a better platform to explore a presidential run if he first was elected governor."
------------------------------------------------------------------------
And to think that Mrs. Palin quit her governorship because it was freaky, expensive and just plain got on her nerves.

Posted by: 12BarBluesAgain | January 27, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Ed Kilgore has some thoughts on the dilemma facing Republicans re military spending discussed in the Times piece I linked yesterday...

http://www.thedemocraticstrategist.org/strategist/2011/01/the_gop_bob_and_weave_on_defen.php#comments

Posted by: bernielatham | January 27, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse

@sbj

I agree with the point of your post and appreciate the link..it makes great sense.
I'm not a big Pence fan obviously because of his positions...and yes he's a little light in the charisma dept...certainly no Paul Ryan...but at least he's not from the dim bulb wing of the R party...and he's smart enough and pragmatic enough to give validity to your point...

"It's gonna take at least $500,000,000.00 to even compete with Obama... send in a a sacrificial lamb."

$$$ will not be a problem for the R candidate in the general against Obama since the Citizens United decision. The R's will be rolling in dough. I think Pence was simply being more pragmatic about the $$$$$ needed to survive what could be a really rough primary season for R candidates...whoever finishes this political episode of survivor will get plenty of $$$ to take on Obama.

Pence is smart..he doesn't wish to be as you phrase it..a sacrificial lamb. He knows the power of incumbency..and he saw the SOTU as well.
Obama is not going to make it easy for any R.

Posted by: rukidding7 | January 27, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse

@sbj3: "Russo: Tea Party Express Will Not Challenge Hatch in 2012, Calls Senator an ‘Original Tea Partier’"

Russo is a republican corporate hack (strumpet) who embodies the "astroturf" movement, trying to glom on to any traction by using the words "tea party" in his corporate lobbyist and oligarch funded and directed "express"...

Posted by: srw3 | January 27, 2011 5:08 PM | Report abuse

don't use the word wh0re in your posts or it will be flagged and not included in the thread...who knew the world's oldest profession would elicit a censor response...

Posted by: srw3 | January 27, 2011 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Ed Henry is reporting:

"Vice President Joe Biden's communications director Jay Carney is expected to be named the new White House Press Secretary, likely on Friday when a series of other big staff moves will be announced by President Obama, according to a senior Democratic source familiar with the process.

Outgoing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing that his successor could be named as early as Thursday afternoon or on Friday, though he said he was not aware of Obama making a final decision on the press post yet. Other White House aides who have been considered for press secretary include Bill Burton, Stephanie Cutter, Josh Earnest, and Jen Psaki.

Several Democratic sources, however, said based on the private deliberations inside the White House Carney is the clear frontrunner for the job. "

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/27/henry-in-the-house-obama-expected-to-name-carney-next-press-secretary/

Posted by: suekzoo1 | January 27, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Ahhh Liam..great to have you back. Does this mean you're over grieving for your beloved "monsters of the midway". Well perhaps Cutler wasn't a monster but Urlacher and the defense gave it their best shot.

Posted by: rukidding7 | January 27, 2011 4:59 PM
..................

Da Bears loss came as no great surprise to me. If you do a search, you will find that I made Greenbay a ten point favorite to win the game.

The Bears were not nearly as good this year, as their win loss record would lead one to believe, and I have never bought into the claim that Cutler is one of the top QBs in the league. He is as erratic as hell, and if he does not get off to a good start, he melts down rapidly, and starts throwing very risky passes into close coverage.

After all his time in the league, he still plays like a very good college QB, who is never going to be a consistently good Pro QB.

As for Mike Pence; the guy has got a permanent expressionless frozen face. I understand he tried so hard to force a smile recently, that he set of aftershock tremors as far away as California and Haiti.

Perhaps; his DNA should be sequenced to isolate his plastic face gene marker, so that people, such as Joan Rivers, could have adult stem cells used, instead of going under the knife.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

@Liam - Pense! What is it with this conservative movement that they seem incapable of validating anyone who isn't just plain dumb?

And on that topic, I see Sarah has raised her head above water again to fill us in on the history of the decline of the Soviet Empire and the space race winners and losers. It would take Palin to clarify that rocket science isn't rocket science.

Posted by: bernielatham | January 27, 2011 4:58 PM |
...................

Bernie,

I posted earlier today, that I though the Fat Cat Donors were going to funnel most of their contributions to Rove/Chamber Of Commerce, and that will dry up most of the money for individual Republican candidates, and would allow Rove/Chamber/Kotch Axis to actually select the next Republican nominee, because they will control almost all the campaign ad funding.

Dick Armey starting to promote Mike Pence, might just be the first launch of such an effort.

The Supreme Court's gang of five right wing stooges, ruling to allow unlimited anonomous contributions to be laundered through the likes of Rove, has effectively returned the nation to the times when candidates were picked by the powerful few, in smoke filled back rooms.

Scalia's scoundrels have restored the poll tax, by declaring that money roars and the poor are all mutes.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

@ruk: "$$$ will not be a problem for the R candidate in the general against Obama since the Citizens United decision. The R's will be rolling in dough."

Just a quick reminder that the Dems outspent the GOP in 2010 and that the impact of Citizens United and outside groups was waaaaay overstated:

"Republican-leaning outside groups spent $30 million more than their Democratic counterparts, the study determined.

"The report also rebuts the widely held belief that Republicans vastly outspent Democrats on the airwaves.

"... Over the course of the campaign, the report found, Democratic committees and candidates outspent their GOP foes $159 million to $112 million – more than enough to compensate for the money outside GOP-leaning groups contributed toward airtime.

“If anything, pro-Republican groups helped keep Republican challengers competitive with the incumbent Democratic class,” the report says."

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/47589.html#ixzz1CHFzhaAy

Posted by: sbj3 | January 27, 2011 5:28 PM | Report abuse

"Bunch Of Rabid Right Wing Freeloaders."

Reporting for duty!

Posted by: TrollMcWingnut | January 27, 2011 5:32 PM | Report abuse

@liam: "Would allow Rove/Chamber/Kotch Axis to actually select the next Republican nominee, because they will control almost all the campaign ad funding."

Don't get too worried, liam. The candidates and parties still control almost all the campaign ad funding. You're starting to believe everything you hear.

"Despite the heightened attention on independent groups over the course of the campaign, according to the study, candidates and campaign committees actually drove most of the spending. By the time the final campaign ad aired, candidates and parties paid for 85 percent of all ads in Senate races and 88 percent of ads in House races."

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/47589.html#ixzz1CHHvJwnt

Posted by: sbj3 | January 27, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse

That line was just to make myself laugh.

It was just a natural extension of the current Tea Party member's dyslexic demand for Representation Without Taxation.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 5:38 PM | Report abuse

SBJ,

That was just a demonstration pilot project, so that Rove/Chamber Of Con Artists could prove they could deliver.

The Fat Cats will go all in with them in 2012.

The Rove/Chamber Of Con Artists Ads created most of the winning margins.

What happens in a two candidate race is, when one candidate attacks another in an ad campaign, he drives up the opponents negatives, but he also drives up his own.

However, when you have Rove/Chamber Of Con Artists doing the attacking, with no names attached, they drive up the Democratic Candidates' negatives, while the Republican opponents finger prints are not left at the scenes of the assaults.

In fact, the Republican opponents in places like Wisconsin were told to say almost nothing, Ron Johnson said he would not even state what his legislative positions were, until after he was elected, while Feingold was being barraged with attack ads, with no names attached to them.

The Oligarchy have restored their Plantations.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Well, I have to leave you folks. God asked me to go knock on the door of the local Jehovah's Witnesses Headquarters, to tell them that he had send me to save them.

Have a good night all, and pay no attention to you know who. Somewhere in the Amazon Basin Forests, a village is missing it's idiot.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

All, Happy Hour Roundup posted:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2011/01/happy_hour_roundup_173.html

Posted by: sargegreg | January 27, 2011 5:57 PM | Report abuse

@liam: I thought your point was that Rove and the evil axis was going to select the nominee?

Nevermind - please continue to wear your blinders, perhaps you won't see the polling place...

Posted by: sbj3 | January 27, 2011 6:00 PM | Report abuse

SBJ,

Sharon Angle is talking about running for President. I will get Greg to start posting negative threads about her, so that you will feel motivated to keep sending her more of your money.

Just think about it; she will campaign on the promise to repeal your sexual orientation, and you will feel free to blame Harry Reid for what she wants to do to you.

Posted by: Liam-still | January 27, 2011 6:04 PM | Report abuse

We'll revisit this again when we have the majority in 2012. Methinks Greg and Ezra won't be so hot on reform come then ...

Posted by: cunn9305 | January 27, 2011 7:16 PM | Report abuse

srw3 - you got a pretty SHORT memory there.

Harry Reid ATE THE REPUBLICANS LUNCH for 5 weeks in the lame duck. But yeah, lets throw him under the bus today. LOL

Posted by: mrkleen | January 28, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

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