On her MSNBC program Rachel Maddow recently sat America down and tried to explain to them how Republicans have managed to break the US Senate by abusing the filibuster. Maddow said, “Since they lost the Senate they have turned it into a stronghold for their own party by using power the senate minority is usually entrusted not to abuse. They’ve used that power to break the institution.”
Here is the video from MSNBC:
Maddow started the segment by discussing why the Senate is suddenly so busy, “Why does stuff stall all year long and then this time of year it takes off like it is in fast motion? It’s because the people who work here want to go home. Get your stuff, get your rewards cards, it’s time to go, move it. You do not have to go home, but you can’t stay here, everybody out. This is not just sociology about human incentives. This is political science. This is not an accident. It’s not always been true that stuff got done only at Christmas time in Washington only at the end of the legislative Washington. This is a political phenomenon now, not just a grocery store phenomenon at the end of the night, because of something really dramatic that happened to the American political system. This is the way that Senate works.”
The reason why was soon evident as Maddow discussed Republican abuse of the filibuster, “This is 1919 to just before Republicans in the senate went into the minority in 2006. This is how the Senate worked from 1919 until before republicans became the minority. Then the last time republicans became the minority, what happened? Boing. Look at that. What you’re looking at there is the breaking of the United States Senate as an institution. What these are is filibusters. This is when the Senate decides to take the extraordinary measure of making something take 60 votes to pass instead of 50 votes. And that’s impossible. Supermajorities are impossible. You cannot actually pass things with supermajorities in an ongoing way. This is not the way that legislatures function. It is never the way that America’s legislature has functioned. If you’re going to require a supermajority it means that effectively this body has ceased to function, it has ceased to function as a normal majority rules legislature. This is how Republicans broke the Senate.”
Maddow discussed the transformation of the Senate into a body where the minority rules, “They have turned the Senate into a Republican stronghold not while they were in the majority, but since they’ve been in the minority. Since they lost the Senate they have turned it into a stronghold for their own party by using power the senate minority is usually entrusted not to abuse. They’ve used that power to break the institution. Even know they are the minority, less than 50 of them, they exert all of the leverage. They get what they want. Which not only means that policies get changed to try to appeal to them, it also means that the calendar just stretches on and on and on and on with nothing ever getting done. That is their preference.”
She mentioned how the GOP is abusing the filibuster, “They are filibustering the funding of the military right now. It’s on the docket They are filibustering the appointment of people to relatively low-level political jobs at middle management levels at cabinet agencies you cannot remember the names of. People who are not famous, people who are not controversial but are nevertheless subject to this extraordinary supermajority rule. This extraordinary thing that was never supposed to be used the way it’s being used. Because republicans are using it the way they are, nothing gets done. And they have found that strategy to be in their political interest. To get as little done as possible.”
Maddow turned her attention to the only leverage that the Democratic majority has, “It is in their interest as the political minority that nothing gets done and they can achieve that with the way they have broken the institution formally known as the United States Senate. And that’s what explains why Christmas is so busy every year now, because the only leverage the democrats have, even though they’re in the majority, the only way Democrats can exert majority, pressure on Republicans is using the fact republicans want to go home and the only way to go home, Democrats say, is to have to do stuff first. Democrats’ only leverage is, hey Republicans, you can’t leave yet.”
She continued, “The leverage that Democrats have, it’s circumstantial. It’s you guys want to go home so we’ll keep the Senate opened so you can’t go home. This is not a procedure. This is not a rule. This is not a technique for bringing things to the floor. This isn’t even debate. This is, you guys want to go home and that’s all we have to use against you so we can get things done. The Senate is broken so this is the only time and only way the majority can get stuff passed.” Maddow then brought in Sen. Tom Udall to discuss his plan to reform the Senate by allowing the majority to review the body’s rules every two years and pass rules changes with a simple majority vote.”
Udall’s plan is a great idea, but it is certain not to pass. The dirty little secret is that neither side of the aisle wants to change the rules. Democrats are well aware that today’s majority could become 2012’s minority, so they view the dysfunction as a type of powerful insurance policy that always guarantees them clout, no matter what who the partisan numerical breakdown of the body favors. Partisanship has destroyed the ability of the Senate to function as it was intended. The Senate is supposed to be the body of deliberation and compromise.
By design the Senate was intended to offset the majority rules mentality of the House of Representatives, but as more members of the House moved up to the Senate, the lower chamber’s mentality has infected the Senate’s behavioral process. It is often difficult to tell the difference between senators and representatives. Hyper partisanship has run wild in the formerly moderate Senate. Rachel Maddow is right the Senate is broken, and their breakdown has paralyzed our government.
The next time you hear someone on the left complain about everything that Obama hasn’t done please take a moment to remind them that most of Obama’s agenda is currently languishing in the US Senate. The Senate has never approved funding for the relocation of detainees and the closure of GITMO. The Senate has stalled every clean energy bill. The Senate has been sitting on DADT. It was the Senate that killed the public option during the healthcare debate. Pick the issue, and you will almost certainly find a bill that the House passed which is collecting dust in the Senate.
It is easy to blame Obama, but Obama isn’t the problem here. Barack Obama hasn’t betrayed you and let you down. The problem is the United States Senate. It was once a proud example of some of the best elements of representative democracy has become a black hole that has killed the momentum of an entire nation. Sen. Udall is correct. This could easily be fixed, but it won’t be, because the American people in their misguided anger are blaming the wrong branch of government. Until people realize where the true problem lies, Obama will continue to take the blame while the United States Senate rots from within.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association