Jul 16, 2013

The Walking Filibuster

     In 1975 the Senate changed the rules of the filibuster.  No longer was it required to stand on the Senate floor and speak indefinitely to block a bill, a la Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  You could now register a filibuster in absentia.  You could stop a bill, or other motion such as a presidential appointment, without trying to get anyone to change their vote, or debating against it.  You could just kind of stall it, forever.  You might be thinking that sounds like it would make filibusters much easier to conduct and therefore much easier to abuse.  You would be right.  Welcome to the world of Mitch McConnell. 

Of all the obstructionists in Washington, Mitch McConnell, Republican Senator from Kentucky, is probably the worst.  The driving force if you will.  He famously said that his number one goal was making Barack Obama a one term President.  Why?  Apparently he doesn’t care very much for the President.  He explained that he didn’t want the President to fail, he wanted him to change.  So he came up with a strategy.  By obstructing just about every piece of legislation or appointment the President puts forward through the use of the filibuster, he would stop the President from having any success.  This will cause the President to fail publicly and, presumably, change.  A noble plan.  The strategy is effective in that it is damaging.  But ironically it is damaging the President the least.

Mitch McConnell will have you believe that his differences with the President lie only in policy positions.  But if there is one thing this President has proven over the last 4 years it’s that he’s open to negotiation on his policy positions.  The truth is Sen. McConnell does not think very much of Barack Obama’s abilities.  He thinks he is not up to the job of being president.  Perhaps he is right.  That is subject to interpretation.  What is less subject to interpretation is whether officials are sent to Washington to make friends.  They, of course, are not.  If Mr. McConnell doesn’t “like” this President he is free to leave him off the guest list of his next Christmas party or backyard barbeque. 

But this President was elected by the majority of the American people.  Twice.  Elected by the same democratic process that has elected Mitch McConnell to the Senate.  Mitch McConnell’s job, therefore, is to work with him.  Not to agree with him on everything but to work with him.  To give and take.  You see obstruction may work to satisfy sinister political goals but the harm it does is far greater.  Because when you obstruct a president you obstruct a nation.

This week, Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to change the rules in the Senate regarding the filibuster.  Making the only requirement for the President’s cabinet appointments a simple majority (51 or more votes in the Senate).  Rules for filibustering other nominees, like judicial nominees, and for filibustering pieces of legislation would remain unchanged.  This is in response to continuous obstruction of what has been traditionally even the most mundane of Senate business, such as approving presidential cabinet appointments.  Decades of tradition in the Senate would have been changed.  Because of the bad behavior of a few Senators like Mitch McConnell. 

It looks, as of today, as though the Senate will find a compromise in the standoff and the crisis will be averted.  The rules will not be changed and that is good.  Changing the rules even in this small way would have set a dangerous precedent and would have placed the Senate on a slippery slope.  One that would have caused Republicans, the next time they gain the majority, to make similar changes.  Potentially beginning a dangerous cycle that would undermine little by little, the safeguards of the minority party in that body.  No, we don’t need a change in the rules of the Senate; we need a change in the behavior of certain Senators. 

Mitch McConnell, by his actions, has done more to hold this country back in the last 4 years than probably any other single person.  His obstructionism, for no reason other than his lack of respect for Barack Obama, has kept us stagnating as a country.  Our jobs crisis is not being addressed.  Fiscal policy is not being addressed.  Education is not being addressed, and so on.  And his actions continue to threaten to set in motion a dilution of the rules of what should be the greatest deliberative body in the world.  All because he wants to frustrate a President.  But all he’s really doing is frustrating the Senate, and a nation.