Tag Archives: Mitch McConnell

The Senate is broken. Can it be repaired?

Gridlock is endemic to the Senate, thanks in large part to the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to end debate on any bill in order to proceed to a vote on the bill itself. The 60-vote threshold is virtually impossible to achieve in the current hyper-polarized Senate, ergo gridlock is assured.

It wasn’t always this way. Greasing the wheels of the Senate to facilitate legislation is theoretically easy.

The filibuster is a procedural rule, originally intended to protect the vulnerable minority from being steamrolled by the majority (even though today the minority protected by the Republicans consists of the wealthy and the privileged). As it was first written, any senator could call for an end to debate when it became an obstructionist or delaying tactic. Since then, the procedure has been modified many times; most significantly, when restrictions on the length of debate were removed, allowing the speaker to continue unhindered for as long as he wanted, unless 60 senators could agree to cloture, i.e., to close the debate and move on to the vote. But a simple majority of the senators can do away with the filibuster altogether.

Mitch McConnell really likes being Majority Leader in the Senate. He wants his old job back and knows how to get it. He’s done it before.

In 2009, Obama entered the Oval Office with a huge approval rating and robust majorities in both House and Senate. The common wisdom held that Republicans had to work with the Democrats in order to keep the GOP from fading into history. But McConnell’s wickedly brilliant insight was to do the opposite. He bet that by relentlessly opposing the Democrats he would cripple their ability to govern, thus eroding their popularity with the voters. His tactics were hugely successful. Though McConnell didn’t succeed in his stated goal of making Obama a one-term president, the Democrats suffered what Obama called a “shellacking” in the midterms. Republicans took back the House and Senate with large margins.

In 2020, Republicans cut into the House majority achieved by Democrats in the 2018 midterm. The Senate seats are evenly divided, though the Democrats have the edge by dint of Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote. McConnell, however, has his eyes firmly fixed on the prize. Right off the bat, he blackmailed Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, in their first negotiation as they formed the Senate. McConnell gave Schumer an ultimatum: agree not to touch the filibuster, which is essential for Republican control of the Senate agenda, or renounce any hope of Republican cooperation. Schumer had to capitulate because he lost two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who vowed to keep the filibuster, perhaps in the vain hope that it would promote bipartisanship.

McConnell also knows that bipartisanship in a polarized Senate is not merely fantasy; it is a hallucination. Bipartisanship helps the majority, not the minority. The majority leader doesn’t allow bills to reach the floor that will split his own caucus. If Republicans help Democrats to pass the Covid relief bill, its success will be attributed to Biden and the Democrats. If the bill fails, by the time the election rolls around, the public will be primed to remember the Democratic failure, not the Republican responsibility for it.

There is a workaround for the filibuster, but only for bills that address fiscal issues. They can be passed with reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority. Assuming no Democrats defect, the Covid relief bill could be passed with VP Harris’s tie-breaking vote. But other initiatives, like those related to climate change or immigration or civil rights, that might pass with a majority, will fall on the 60-vote threshold. The filibuster ensures that they can no longer pass, even with a majority in the House and Senate, the president’s signature and no danger from judicial challenge.

Initially, I was floored by McConnell’s diatribe against Trump delivered minutes after he voted to acquit Trump on a technicality. A little later I realized that McConnell, apart from playing to both sides, was actually taking another step toward his goal of restoring the Republican majority and his leadership of the Senate with it. Some commentators have observed that McConnell was trying to appease his corporate donors who closed their purses after the Jan. 6 insurrection and coax them back into the fold. Republicans need money for their campaigns; they win back their seats and McConnell consolidates his power.

The choice for Schumer and the Democrats is clear: eliminate (or modify) the filibuster or get very little done in the 19 months left before failure guarantees defeat in the midterms.

Note: It is well worth listening to Ezra Klein’s conversation with Adam Jentleson about these matters in his podcast, The Ezra Klein Show.

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Obama: mopey? no. energized, yes

Mitch McConnell, next Senate Republican Majority Leader

Mitch McConnell, next Senate Republican Majority Leader

At his post-election presser today, Pres. Obama was asked how he feels after the Republican trouncing. “It doesn’t make me mopey, it energizes me,” Obama replied.

The President fielded tough questions with aplomb, unflappable as usual. I find it reassuring to have a leader who, no matter what’s thrown at him, he keeps his composure and reflects. He doesn’t go off half-cocked, singing, “Bomb, bomb Iran!”

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

With a Republican congress and a judiciary dominated by conservatives, what will happen to the issues dear to Democrats and spurned by Republicans? What will happen, for example, to the president’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act? What will happen to climate-change imperatives like emissions control when Mitch McConnell, the presumptive majority leader, represents a state whose economy is almost entirely dependent on coal?

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Women senators lead, ctd.

Video by National Journal

Video by National Journal

The final version of Republican Senator (Maine) Susan Collins’s plan to end the shutdown was announced by the party leaders, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The men presented the proposal despite it having been conceived by a woman and modified by a bipartisan committee, half of whom were women.

Some of the men acknowledged the women’s work:

Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily by women in the Senate. – Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Watch the video of McCain and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) here.

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Pres. Obama zings, jokes and takes on his critics

Pres. Obama at 2013 White House Correspondents' Dinner

Pres. Obama at 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Pres. Obama pulled no punches Saturday night at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Having been re-elected, the President’s confidence was obvious. Obama enjoys his one-liners — he’s not one to let a chance like this one to pass him by.  He let the zingers fly.

The audience howled, cracked up and smiled knowingly at the inside-the-Beltway jokes at the expense of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), birthers, all manner of critics and even some friends.

The President put on a good show. Watch the video after the break and enjoy.   Continue reading

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Over the cliff we go!

CliffThat’s how it looks late on New Year’s Eve Day. The House of Representatives announced it won’t be voting before the deadline.

It is possible that that Pres. Obama and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will reach an agreement in time. Without a vote in both houses, though, the agreement is merely a pact, not a law that would keep the spending cuts of the Sequester and restoration of the tax rates of the Clinton era from kicking in at midnight. The agreement would have to be written up in bills that would then have to pass both House and Senate— not a given.

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Obama’s leadership: Get real!

Pres. Barack Obama

I was watching “Morning Joe” today and the steam was coming out of my ears. Republicans and Democrats were criticizing Pres. Obama for not asserting himself, for “standing by” while Republicans took advantage of him.

Really? What, pray tell, can he do with a Senate whose minority leader has publicly announced that his top priority is to make Obama a one-term president? Wielding the filibuster, Mitch McConnell has ensured that the Republican minority will oppose and obstruct every one of the president’s initiatives. And forget about the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a commanding majority. Continue reading

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Obama’s second stimulus (jobs) speech

President Barack Obama talks with Rep. Chris VanHollen, D-Md., before addressing a Joint Session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 8, 2011. Pictured, from left, are: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Assuming an unaccustomed feisty, combative and definitely not professorial demeanor, President Obama defied congressional Republicans not to pass the new stimulus package he presented to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night.

Speaking plainly for the benefit of his national audience, Obama contended that we have to choose our priorities.

Read more . . .




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The Boehner Rule: more debt-ceiling clashes to come

Did you enjoy watching Republicans and Democrats snarling at each other for weeks? Do you think that holding the American economy hostage was a good thing? Then you’ll be happy to know we’re in for a lot more of the same, especially when a Democrat occupies the White House. Grover Norquist, arguably one of the most powerful men in Washington (any Republican running for office must sign his no-new-tax pledge), said

[T]here is a new rule in town. The Boehner Rule: Any increase in the debt ceiling will require a reduction in federal spending by the same amount of the debt ceiling increase.

Never negotiate with terrorists. It encourages them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed that yesterday:

McConnell promised that in the future the debt ceiling will be held hostage to Republican priorities:

[The debt ceiling debate] set the template for the future. In the future, Neil, no president—in the near future, maybe in the distant future—is going to be able to get the debt ceiling increased without a re-ignition of the same discussion of how do we cut spending and get America headed in the right direction. I expect the next president, whoever that is, is going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again in 2013, so we’ll be doing it all over.

Read more: The Debt Ceiling Crisis Abated … for Now

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Debt-Ceiling deal any closer?

The debt-ceiling Armageddon being fought in Washington has never been chiefly about money. Because everyone except the most extreme members of the Tea Party Movement knows that the debt limit must be raised, Republicans are holding it hostage to exact acceptance of their conservative agenda. They know that the Democrats controlling the presidency and the Senate will never agree to scale back Social Security and other social programs. As of now, all but a very few Republicans are inexorably opposed to any tax increase, including the closing of loopholes that would result in higher taxes for individuals or corporations. Seizing the opportunity offered by the moment, they would force far-reaching cuts in public programs as the price of preventing the United States from defaulting on its debts.

Driving the conservative agenda is the determination to shrink the size of government by “starving the beast” — defunding it by steadily lowering taxes — a theory adopted by Republicans in the 1970s. The assumption was that the decreased revenue would compel cutbacks in spending, especially on the social network programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) enacted by Democrats. Republicans wanted to prune those programs drastically or, ideally, eliminate them entirely. Continue reading

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Debt-Ceiling Debate: anxiety rising, compromise elusive

Americans are watching an extreme and dangerous game of chicken played out among the most powerful of our elected officials. Who will blink first? Who will win? And what will it mean, if anything, to the ordinary citizen? Fanned by the media, the uncertainty of the outcome of this battle of wills is ratcheting up the anxiety of the public to an almost unbearable level. According to all but the most extreme conservatives, we are perched at the edge of a precipice, and if we fall into the abyss, there’s no telling what all the consequences will be. It is certain, however, that every American will be adversely affected by skyrocketing interest rates and plunging financial markets.

What is this contest about? The by now notorious debt ceiling is a dollar figure set by Congress, the amount of money the federal government may borrow in order to meet its fiduciary obligations. These fall into two categories. The public debt is the principal and interest owed to individuals and governments that have bought U.S. Treasury bonds. The other is the money the federal government has borrowed from the trust funds of federal programs, principally Social Security and Medicare. In a sense, Congress raises the limit each time it passes a spending bill or a tax cut without corresponding reductions in spending somewhere else.  Continue reading

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