Rachel Maddow Explains How Republicans Broke the Senate

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:

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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.

28 Replies to “Rachel Maddow Explains How Republicans Broke the Senate”

  1. the last time I looked this is our Congress. The Congress does not belong to the Republicans or the Democrats. It is their responsibility to run the Congress in a professional manner. And they are certainly not living up to their obligations.

    The Republicans keep talking about the will of the people yet they totally ignore it. It’s one thing to give lip service, it’s quite another to perform an professional manner. The Republicans desire to break this government and to break this president should disqualify them from any type of representation.

    I think the recent video by Jon Stuart pretty much explains it all

    well done Jason

  2. “It is easy to blame Obama, but Obama isn’t the problem here. Barack Obama hasn’t betrayed you and let you down….United States rots from within.”

    Liberals seem to think Obama has a magic Senate stick he is choosing not to wield over these game players. Perhaps it’s the American people’s fault for failing to pay attention.

  3. @shiva

    Thanks, this was a really important lesson about the legislative process and what has gone so very wrong. I have meaning to write about this for a while, and Maddow’s piece on her show presented the opportunity to address it.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Yes, what is most discouraging is that liberals are just as ignorant about the systemic malfunctions within our system of government as conservatives are. It makes me wonder if anyone out there is paying attention. Thanks for the superb comment.

  5. The fact is the Repubs are doing the will of The People. Most polls show that The People are against most of the programs that He has proposed. Fact is it is the Dems that are ignoring the will of the people. Maybe He should be worrying about getting the economy back on track and so that people can get jobs. THAT’s what The People want.

  6. Great post.

    The public does have a glimmer that the problems in Washington are secondary to the dysfunctional legislative branch as evidenced by low public polling for congress, but as with any entity comprised of multiple members, there is a comfortable diffusion of responsibility.

    The executive branch with a clearly defined single leader doesn’t have that diffusion of responsibility (and shouldn’t), so the President becomes a more identifiable and emotionally satisfying target to strike at and hold accountable for all the frustrating problems in government. It’s an unfair and shallow understanding of how the government works, but the reality is, and always has been, that a good segment of the public is unfair and shallow in their understanding.

  7. He’ll just wave his magic wand and make all the jobs come back, the ones that were sold overseas over the past 30 years by an entire generation of “businessmen”. Sure, he’ll get right on that.

    The fact is, nobody’s doing the “will of the people”, as you so stupidly eloquently put it. (using terrible capitalization; what is this, the King James Bible?) The great majority of the people in Washington are doing what they usually do; serving themselves.

  8. I can’t believe this, this is a mockery of our political system. This is very frustrating as a citizen, nothing will ever get done. This makes it hard to be proud of this country.

  9. *** It is easy to blame Obama, but Obama isn’t the problem here. Barack Obama hasn’t betrayed you and let you down. ***

    But he takes all the credit, and passes all the blame to previous presidents.

    And please, don’t think we’re naive enough to think that if the roles were reversed that the Dems wouldn’t be doing the same thing.

    For those of you calling this a “mockery of our system” – hate to tell y’all, but the rules have been there forever. Both sides HAVE used them. Please don’t take this liberal leaning article to mean that the Dems haven’t ever done it.

    Bring back line-item-veto then we’ll talk about removing filibustering.

  10. I think requiring 60 votes to pass something is great. It slows down the march of the growth of government power.

  11. The democrats have already done this. Remember the filibustering when the republicans were trying to get justices seated? Remember how they screamed that the republicans needed to share their power when they had control of congress?

    The fact is both sides do the exact same thing for (what they say) are different reasons, hence the dismally low approval ratings for congress. I’ve been a liberal and I’ve been a conservative, but now I’m mostly just disgusted with both sides, and I don’t think I’m in the minority.

    I even looked at the Tea Party when it first began to surface because it looked like it was a mix of everyday people who just wanted some common sense in government, but now they’ve been hijacked as well.

    I’m thinking of moving to the woods.

  12. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t like Rachel Maddow. I personally think she spews as much hate as everyone thinks Fox News does. However, that being said, I have to agree with some of the people posting here. The problem doesn’t lie with one party or another. It’s all broken. We’ve trusted the welfare of this great country to a bunch of self centered people, who want nothing more than to fill their pockets, and break the backs of the people they are supposed to represent. I for one am getting sick of all the pettiness between the two opposing factions here in this country. They both claim the other is at fault, and full of hate, yet read the posts and you’ll see it’s both sides. I can only hope and pray the we, the people actually wake up in time to save OUR country from the hands of people who pander to the highest bidder. Something has to change. And Hellscream is right, It’s not like the Dems haven’t used it before to get what they want. That is the problem. Instead of working together for the betterment of the country, they work for the betterment of themselves, point fingers, and we all suffer. They had all better start to do something and keep the promises they made in the 2010 elections, because the 2012 elections are right around the corner.

  13. I bet if Divine Shadow were a Muslim you wouldn’t make a smart stuck up remark about the quran. Because you’re a liberal, and as of right now your bulls eye’s just on Christians. Whenever I question whether or not to continue working in politics for the GOP as I currently do I just go to some left wing biased site and read some of the comments liberals leave. You give me the fuel to keep working for the conservatives and supporting the Tea Party. Thanks full of hate Nate.

  14. I’m sure you didn’t have a problem with the previous filibuster record setting Congress where Dems were in the minority. Surely, they were only looking out for the people. Get a clue. Filibusters have been on the rise since the 80’s. Both parties use it more frequently every session. Does that make it right? No.

    This wasn’t about whether filibusters are right. This was about Republicans being evil for using it. It should be limited for both sides and both are wrong for abusing it. So, before you attack the side you disagree with for using the procedure, mybe there should be some research into how the other side uses it as well.

  15. Forget all the other details, just think about this. If we can’t get just 60% of people to agree on a new law…it probably shouldn’t be a new law. Do we really want to impose laws on 49% or 45% of people who disagree with it?

    The biggest potential problem with democracy is the tyranny of the majority forcing their will upon the minority. To keep this to a minimum, increasing the necessary votes from 50 to 60 or even 75 sounds like it makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? I mean, 25% isn’t a small minority – it’s huge!

    Or do you think that 75% of the country should be able to tell the other 25% what they can and can’t do?

  16. What else can the minority do if they are having garbage shoved down their throats? I praise the republicans for doing this.

  17. OMG! Are you telling me that those noble Democrat senators now will not be able to pay off their contributors by funneling earmarked jobs to them? And those poor govt employee unions, how will they get their raises and pension increases? Do you know that some of those people have to work 20, even 25 years for their pensions? And most of them only make about $50 or $60 an hour when you factor in their perks? I am going to perform a little jig of sorrow and justice when I get off the internet about this.

    And how are those poor senators going to get re elected if they can’t earmark favors to their contributors? My God, this is so unfair! Those senators might have to actually consider the voters, those scalawags who want to keep SO MUCH of their wages instead of paying half of them. It’s only just, of course, the taxpayer pays half of their pay, and the senators and cronies keep the other half. Share and share alike, isn’t that what the teachers unions teach in Kindergarten?

    Well, shoot! I am going to make up a little dirge about social justice and how RACIST it is for taxpayers to not pay up. It’s gonna go like this:

    Ha ha ha! Hah ha ha!
    Ha ha all the way! May notice that there is a seasonal tilt to this. I’m going to continue with something about how much fun it is to ride in a limo paid for by taxes, and something else about social justice, and throw in something about how stupid Sarah Palin is. Maybe it’ll be a hit.

    I’m sure those nasty rethuglicans will like it. You betcha!

  18. She is complaining because her party can have it’s way with everything they want. I think that having 60% is not that bad. What is telling is that the dems had a huge majority and they still couldn’t get anything done. The dems have such a superiority attitude that it makes me sick.

  19. The argument that “The Dems did it too” is flatly wrong. The numbers don’t lie.
    112 filibusters in the 110th Congress? 87 this one?
    Nothing the Democrats have done even comes close.

  20. The Democrats have not been above using the filibuster when they’ve been in the minority. In 2005, the GOP majority arm-twisted them into foregoing filibusters in exchange for a promise that the Republicans wouldn’t use the so-called nuclear option, by which senators can stop a filibuster with a simple majority, to end the filibusters then underway. There were 10 of them. In the current Congress, Republicans have started123 filibusters (as of the end of November).

  21. First and foremost, presumably, someone commenting on a site about American politics is most likely American, and therefore, statistically likely to be a Christian of some variety (I, however, am an atheist/antitheist). Furthermore, the “King James Bible” line was most likely prompted by the repeated capitalization of “He”, which is most prominently used in said bible to denote god, rather than some random male (… why is god always male, anyway?). It may well be the same in the Quran, but I haven’t read that in a long time (or in it’s native language. Probably a lot different in Arabic). I’ve read the bible more thoroughly than most Christians though.

    Also, if I knew that he was a Muslim, why wouldn’t I make a joke about it? They’re not entitled to immunity from criticism (especially when said criticism is in no way related to their religion), which just goes to show how misguided you actually are. “Liberals” don’t defend Muslims because we think that they’re somehow better, or because they’re currently under fire from bigots (Fun fact – The Quran does not in any way condone the extremism shown by terrorism. A few of the suras can be twisted to support that view, but as a whole, the book is quite peaceful, unlike the crazy brutality of the Old Testament and the sudden shift to the New Testament pseudo-hippy.)

    As for supporting the Tea party… I’ve really got nothing to say to you there – obstructing the legal process is in no way helpful to our nation. Maybe the democrats aren’t always right (and in fact I think that they’ve got quite a lot wrong with their current policies), but the way to get over that is to come to a middle ground, to compromise, to find a solution that leaves everyone just a little unhappy, rather than drag your heels and kick and scream at the slightest hint of a change you don’t like. That’s something toddlers do, not politicians who (mostly) went to prominent law schools.

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