Harry Reid Needs to Get Both a Spine and a Clue and Confront Republican Obstruction

Reid McConnell2

Democracy works on a simple precept; the majority rules, and although the minority always feels affronted that their will, however noble, does not carry the day, democracy is a relatively fair form of government. For the past four years Republicans have prevented the majority Democrats from following the will of the people through obstruction, hostage taking, and abusing filibuster rules in the Senate. The recent blockage of Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense highlights the need for a change in Senate rules to prevent Republicans from repeating the past four years of obstructionist tactics, and it is time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to reconsider changing Senate rules to a simple majority vote to allow government to function.

The filibuster has its usefulness in giving pause to rash decisions, or mischief by the majority part, as well as encouraging discourse to give every member a voice. However, Republicans have used the filibuster for pure obstructionism to the point that bills, judicial nominations, and heads of departments never come up for a confirmation vote, and it is simply to stop implementation of previously passed laws and derail President Obama’s attempt to lead the nation.  Republicans are holding Senator Reid to a “promise” that he would restrain himself from invoking what they call “the nuclear option,” which is changing Senate rules so a simple majority moves things along. One senator, Mark Begich (D-Alaska), summed up the nature of Republicans for the past four years and asked a question many, many Americans already know the answer to. He said, “I think it really puts in question the sincerity of the leadership on the other side. Are they serious about moving things forward and do we reexamine these reforms?”

The reforms Reid and McConnell agreed on were limiting floor time for sub-cabinet nominees after the Senate agreed to a final vote, but it did not address cabinet appointees, Supreme Court, or appellate court nominees from filibusters. In short, Republicans still retain the right to obstruct the President and Democrats from a minority position and there is no indication they will change their obstructionist ways, especially with an upcoming confirmation of President Obama’s choice to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that portends the second round of obstruction for the same man, and same position within a year.

In July 2010, President Obama signed landmark legislation, Dodd-Frank, into federal law as a response to the Bush-Republican Great Recession.  The law was the most significant change to financial regulations since regulatory reform following the Great Depression, and changes the financial regulatory environment for all federal financial regulatory agencies and nearly all the country’s financial services industry. Republicans opposed the law vehemently regardless the banking and financial industry just crashed the world’s economy, and repealing the law became nearly as important to conservatives as repealing the Affordable Care Act. Subsequently, Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block Richard Cordray, the President’s nominee to head the new consumer watchdog bureau in December 2011, leading President Obama to make a recess appointment in early January 2012 to bypass Republican opposition in the Senate.

The President finally spoke to Senate Republican obstructionism from a minority position and said, “I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve, not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans.”  The President, like millions of Americans, was fed up that led by Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans had refused to approve the President’s nominees for several agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the CFPA because they protect the American people. Last month, a federal appeals court ruled the President overstepped his authority in appointing Cordray during a recess, and the entire process is beginning again emboldening Republicans that regardless their agreement with Reid, McConnell can rely on, and use, the filibuster to block a vote by the majority, and they are threatening to block Cordray’s nomination again unless the President obeys them and guts the CFPA to protect the financial industry.

More than 40 Senate Republican  have  signed on to a letter to the President warning him that either he gives power to Republicans to neuter the CFPA, or they will block a confirmation vote using the filibuster. Republican lawmakers insist on changes to the law that replaces the bureau’s director with a board appointed by congressional Republicans, and subjects the agency to more Republican oversight (translation; no oversight). One senate Democratic aide said “They won’t confirm Cordray or anyone else unless wholesale changes are made to the agency. They’re trying to change a major law with 43 votes” and it is not the way Democracy works. However, no American should be surprised because the GOP has attempted to repeal or change every law, major or minor, that either holds Republicans’ donors accountable to the law, or passed with the President’s support.

Senator Reid has been patient, and fair, with Republicans who have made it their raison d’etre to obstruct the President and Democratic attempts to protect and serve the people. They blocked a jobs bill to hire Veterans returning from serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just last week  Senator Jim Inhofe sent a letter to other Republicans urging them to prevent Hagel’s nomination from reaching a final up-or-down vote. He wrote, “I hope the extra time afforded to review his record has been beneficial and you once again, will join me in voting against cloture,” meaning Democrats need 60 votes before they can confirm a major Cabinet position dealing with national security.

When Harry Reid agreed to reject calls to change the filibuster rules using the so-called “nuclear option” he sounded hopeful the bipartisan reform rules hasten the Senate’s pace of business, but alluded to the possibility of future action to limit the power of the minority party to delay bills and nominees. He said, “It is my hope that these reforms will help restore a spirit of comity and bipartisan cooperation. If these reforms do not do enough to end the gridlock here in Washington, we will consider doing more in the future,” and the senior director at Communications Workers of America, George Kohl, reminded Reid that “He reserved the right to reconsider the rules if they continue to obstruct, and if they continue to go down that path I think he’ll have to reconsider options he would like not to exercise.” For the good of the country, and the American people, it is time for Reid to exercise his option and put an end to Republican obstructionism and allow the Senate to do the job the people sent them to Washington to do.

Reid is out of options but to do his job as Senate Majority Leader and make sure Republicans do not spend the next four years punishing the American people by obstructing progress. It is painfully obvious that regardless McConnell’s agreement to work in “a spirit of comity and bipartisan cooperation,” Republicans have made it abundantly clear they have no intention of allowing the majority to even vote for the President’s nominees, or Democratic bills, unless they are given the power to rule from the minority position. Senate Republicans have spent the past four years sitting on their hands and saying no, and the nation has suffered abject stagnation waiting for “comity and bipartisan cooperation” and can ill-afford to wait another day, much less years for a working Congress. It is unclear why Reid is waiting for Republicans to have an epiphany and realize their job entails governing, not obstructing, but after suffering their obstruction in the 111th and 112th Congress, one would think Reid would get a clue, and a spine, and do his job as Majority Leader and end Republican abuse of the filibuster because every day he plays Mr. Nice Guy, Americans suffer being governed by the minority party they rejected in the last election, and that is not democracy.

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