Bipartisanship is a political situation in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise to govern more efficiently, and prior to Americans electing an African American man as President, governing and passing legislation through compromise was not a unique situation. It is old news, now, that Republicans are unwilling and incapable of finding common ground with Democrats on any issue even if the public and Republican legislators support something the President and Democrats are promoting. In fact, Republicans will oppose, obstruct, and block by filibuster anything, and if this past week was any indication, Senate Republicans will even block legislation they helped write and supported in a rare display of bipartisanship.
This week there were two carefully negotiated bills that appeared to satisfy both Senate Democrats and Republicans alike because there was broad bipartisan support for each. One bill, a business-backed bill to revive and extend tax breaks for companies doing research and development was filibustered (blocked) by Republicans on Thursday even though they unanimously supported it. The second bill, dealing with energy efficiency, was blocked by Republicans on Monday despite careful negotiations and compromise from both sides of the aisle. It is obvious the obstruction had nothing to do with the content of the bills and everything to do with bringing governance to a halt unless Republicans got their way.
Republicans made no bones about why they filibustered both bills and according to Utah Republican Senator Orin Hatch, “It had nothing to do with policy, it had to do with how we proceed. And frankly I think a message was sent today.” The message was perfectly clear that because Republicans were unable to add an amendment forcing President Obama to approve the KeystoneXL pipeline and abolish the wind energy tax credits, and another repealing part of the Affordable Care Act, the bills would never survive Republicans’ filibuster.
On Monday, Republicans filibustered the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill by a 55-36 vote because Democrats would not allow them to insert stealth amendment forcing the President to approve the Keystone pipeline and eliminate the wind energy tax credit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered to let Republicans have a vote on the KeystoneXL pipeline as a standalone bill, but it was not enough of a concession for Republicans so they refused Reid’s offer. Apparently there was nothing to prevent Republicans from making the Senate completely ungovernable. One can understand Republicans reneging on a bipartisan measure about energy efficiency, particularly because they could not satisfy the Koch’s coveted Canadian pipeline approval or eliminate tax credits for clean wind energy, but there is no accounting for any Republican blocking tax breaks for corporations.
On Thursday Republicans blocked a measure to revive expired tax breaks for corporations on research and development, among many other pro-business incentives; the measure failed by a vote of 53-40. Republicans liked the idea of more corporate tax breaks, but only if Democrats allowed them to insert a stealth amendment repealing the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax, so they filibustered the legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stood on the floor of the Senate on Thursday and accused Democrats of “turning the Senate into a graveyard of good ideas and open democratic debate.” What McConnell failed to tell Americans was one of the “good ideas” was attempting to force the President to approve a foreign corporation’s pipeline that serves no American’s interest except the oil export industry, the Koch brothers, and Speaker of the House John Boehner’s portfolio. McConnell continued his rant in support of obstructing legislation for obstruction’s sake by blaming Democrats for eliminating the citizens of this country’s “say in what their government does.” He also claimed the Senate is “the citadel of our democracy — the place where we guarantee that no one in this country is cut out of the legislative process. Today, we have a Democratic majority that’s turned this body right on its head.” Apparently, the Democrats and Republicans who worked out two bipartisan deals only to have Republicans block their passage unless they got amendments that served special interests is not turning the Senate right on its head.
McConnell knows that there is no legislative process in the country with obstruction-minded Republicans involved, and citizens have not had a voice in what their government does because Republicans have obstructed myriad pieces of legislation the people, and Republicans, overwhelmingly supported. The “citizens” McConnell referred to have no interest, or benefit to gain, from Republicans eliminating wind energy tax credits, forcing the President to approve the Keystone pipeline, or repealing the ACA’s medical device tax that serve the GOP’s special interests. It bears repeating the Harry Reid offered Republicans an opportunity to have their vote to supersede President Obama’s constitutional authority over approving the Keystone pipeline, but they rejected his generous offer out-of-hand.
The Senate Republicans’ obstruction has reached a point that a professor at George Washington University and leading Senate expert, Sarah Binder, said, “This is what parliamentary warfare looks like. I think the filibuster of the tax extender and energy bills — both carefully negotiated by committee leaders in a bipartisan fashion — suggests yet another deterioration of the Senate’s legislative capacity. The combination of Senate rules and competitive, polarized parties makes the Senate near ungovernable.”One does not have to be a Senate expert to know Republicans have all but ground the upper chamber’s ability to govern to a screeching halt regardless what the issue is. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid certainly has had his fill of Republican obstruction, even obstructing bills they support and helped write. Reid said, “This useless, mind-boggling obstruction is what continually grinds the wheels of the Senate to a halt. So to my friends who want to know how we can make things better here in the Senate, I say: put an end to obstruction for obstruction’s sake.” Reid is correct that this GOP minority’s obstruction has escalated to unprecedented heights and there appears to be no end in sight.
A former spokesman for Reid, Jim Manley, said, “In all my years in the Senate I’ve never seen anything like this. All but the most routine bills are subject to filibusters.” Manley said one of the main reasons Reid opposes an open-amendment process after a bill has been written and ready for a vote is “because he has been blindsided in the past by completely off-the-wall Republican amendments relating to personhood or gun legislation, which aren’t always relevant to the underlying bill. Repealing any part of the ACA had nothing to do with giving corporations tax breaks for research and development any more than forcing the President to approve the Keystone pipeline or eliminating wind energy tax credits were related to energy efficiency. If nothing else, the Keystone approval and elimination of wind energy tax credits were contrary to the purpose of the energy efficiency legislation and that may have been the Republicans’ point in using those amendments as cover to obstruct legislation that would benefit the people.
It is likely that Orin Hatch really explained the mindset of obstructionist Republicans when he helped filibuster a bill he strongly supported. He said, “It had nothing to do with policy, it had to do with how we proceed. And frankly I think a message was sent today.” Hatch is wrong on one point; obstructing legislation that Republicans helped write and supported has everything to do with the Republican Party’s policy of bringing governance to an end because the American people elected an African American man as President, and it is also a message Republicans began sending in 2009 within days of President Obama’s inauguration. What Hatch meant to say is Republican obstruction had nothing to do with the content of the legislation, only that they were unable to attach amendments to benefit their campaign donors.
Republicans have nearly brought the ability to govern to a grinding halt that they wear as a badge of honor as if the American people enjoy paying Republicans’ bloated salaries for rendering Congress’ ability to function useless. If, as McConnell claims, democracy is being thwarted, it is because Republicans will not allow the democratic process to work even when they get bipartisan legislation they support. When Republicans obstructed tax breaks for corporations and rejected the opportunity to vote for KeystoneXL’s approval, they revealed their only purpose in going to Washington is to completely neuter the government; that is the message another round of obstruction sent the people who elected them.