Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is on a kick. Personally frustrated, and under pressure from the left, Reid has decided to take direct aim at Republican obstruction, and he’s doing so in angry terms.
“For anybody watching, what’s taken place the last three years knows the Republicans have become experts in wasting time, the American taxpayers’ time, the American people’s time, and yesterday was no exception,” Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Democrats can’t pass off all of the blame for the glacial pace of progress in the last several months. With a 60-member caucus, they in theory have sufficient numbers to overcome GOP filibusters of key agenda items, if they could only agree to stay united. But even if they did muscle their agenda through the procedural labyrinth of the Senate, they still wouldn’t be able to stop the foot-dragging.Republicans have threatened to filibuster 58 times this year. Thirty times, they’ve actually forced cloture votes–and when cloture is invoked, the Senate must usually wait hours before the underlying issue can pass. More crucially, they’ve also blocked nominations and legislation and delayed proceedings in other ways, all of which waste precious legislating hours in a body that spends almost as much time out of session as it does in session.
This week Reid was steamed that individual members had forced three cloture votes on a bill to extend unemployment compensation. Each of these filibusters delayed progress on the bill by hours, and yet, at the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of the GOP ultimately voted for cloture.
On October 21, Republicans objected when Democrats tried to move the bill to the floor for debate–the filibuster went down 87-13. On October 29, when Reid tried to incorporate some amendments, two Republicans managed to hold up the bill yet again. That cloture vote was 85-2. Later that day when Reid tried to bring the bill up for a vote, a Republican filibuster led to yet another cloture vote. 97-1. When the up or down vote was finally allowed, the unemployment extension passed unanimously, 98-0.
These delays weren’t ultimately about the substance of the bill–the entire Senate wanted to extend unemployment compensation. They were based on the fact that Democrats wouldn’t allow debate on amendments having to do with ACORN and similarly unrelated issues.
“Yesterday, Republicans used every trick in the book to slow and stall and ensure we can’t do important work,” Reid said. “Seven thousand people lost their ability to have a check. Maybe it’s getting cold.”
The unemployment episode is illustrative. It’s the logical extension of a pattern of obstruction that has the Republicans set to shatter records. The liberal group People for the American Way have demonstrated fairly conclusively that the GOP is on pace to double the previous record for filibusters on executive branch nominees set…by the Republicans under President Bill Clinton.
Last year, with months left to go in the 110th Congress, Congressional expert Norm Ornstein highlighted the extent to which the GOP had taken what was already an escalating trend of minority obstruction and put it on steroids.
This Congress, they’re picking up where they left off.
Next week, Reid is likely to have to file cloture on President Obama’s first judicial nominee, David Hamilton, who’s been waiting on a confirmation vote for months. Only four years after threatening to use the “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster of judicial nominations altogether, Republicans are gearing up to do just that.
And that’s to say nothing of the floor debate over health care which is expected to take weeks, and involve two cloture votes (three, if you count a likely cloture vote on the conference report) and scores of dilatory amendments. Each of these will cause their own delays. And though Democrats have some tools at their disposal to blunt these tactics, the Senate rules make it impossible for them to keep things moving at a more reasonable pace.