I agree with Jonah Goldberg’s sentiment that the Senate will function better once we “have more partisanship about ideas and less about process.” His point is that Democrats under Harry Reid’s stewardship have been so eager to protect vulnerable members from taking tough votes that they have argued entirely over process rather than ideas.
This is undeniably true, as the Wall Street Journal chronicles today in its lead editorial:
“[Democratic Senators] have also been handmaidens to Harry Reid , the Majority Leader who has devoted the last four years to protecting Mr. Obama while turning the Senate into the world’s least deliberative body. Next Tuesday’s vote is above all a referendum on whether the Senate will spend two more years in this Obama-Reid dead zone.”
“In the media’s telling, gridlock in Washington is due to tea party pressure on House Republicans to resist Mr. Obama’s agenda. There is some of that, reflecting different views of government. But at least the House debates and votes in plain sight. Mr. Reid won’t allow the normal give and take of democratic voting and accountability that is the reason to have a legislature.
The Reid shutdown runs even to the core legislative function of funding the government. The House has passed seven of 12 annual appropriations bills, most with big bipartisan majorities. Chairman Barbara Mikulski has passed eight of the 12 out of her Senate Appropriations Committee, and Republicans wanted to debate. Mr. Reid blocked a floor vote on every one.”
“Wyoming Republican John Barrasso kept a running tally of Mr. Reid’s amendment blockade through July. In the previous 12 months Senators introduced 1,952 amendments—1,105 from Republicans and 847 from Democrats. Mr. Reid blocked all but 19.
Legislation? Mr. Reid has blocked at least 10 bills sent to him by the House that passed with notable bipartisan support. Some 35 House Democrats voted with Republicans to delay ObamaCare’s employer mandate; 46 Democrats voted to expedite the approval of liquefied natural gas exports; 130 Democrats voted for patent-reform legislation; 158 Democrats voted to expand access to charter schools; and 183 Democrats voted (in a bill that passed 406-1) to exempt certain veterans from the ObamaCare employer mandate. Mr. Reid’s response: No debate, no vote.”
Progressives have largely made peace with the fact that they are now an “ends justify the means” party and as a result have formally abandoned any respect for process. And yet process is their great weapon of the moment, used to protect Democrats from an unpopular agenda by freeing them from accountability and blaming gridlock on Republicans for “obstruction” (yes, Huffington Post created its very own “Senate Obstruction” tag). It is a grand illusion of activity meant to hide the fact that substantive debate is not happening. And so I agree with Goldberg that escaping the procedural bog in order to emphasize meaningful policy debate is the way forward out of the wretched Reid Senate.
The problem is that, in our system of government, process is still extremely important. The fact that Harry Reid and Democrats (and especially the national media which has been criminally silent on this for the most part) have decided to openly ignore process and not allow debate or roll call votes is a national scandal. Or at least it should be. Instead, the progressive bubble has convinced itself that the shutdown was the great sin against good government, not Reid’s blatant destruction of Senate tradition. The shutdown was a non-event of course. Federal workers got paid throughout (because of course they did) and the government actually went out of its way to make the shutdown feel worse than it was by closing off public viewpoints to Mt. Rushmore, harassing tourists at Yellowstone and ringing the WWII memorial with barricades on the national mall.
The worst in a string of many abuses of process by Democrats occurred last year when the “nuclear option” suddenly became the left’s cri de coeur. Upset over the president’s cascading failures and in a panic over the looming fortunes of both Obamacare and their upper chamber majority, Senate Democrats concluded that their best course was to nuke the filibuster for judicial nominees in order to pack the D.C. Circuit Court, a move that proved prescient when the Halbig ruling was granted an en banc hearing with the full appeals court, including the hastily confirmed additional Democratic appointees. Despite warnings about setting dangerous precedents from some principled liberals, most progressives supported invoking the nuclear option, and with fervor. Whatever future headaches would emerge as a result of the radical maneuver were worth the short term satisfaction of inserting partisan judges on the D.C. Circuit. The ends justify the means.
Republicans threatened but never actually went through with nuclear option in 2005. Every prominent Democratic senator that year (Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer) took to the floor to rail against the unprecedented assault on the most precious feature of our republic: the protection of minority interests.
That argument carried the day and Republicans backed off the threat.
Would that things have played out the same way last year, but alas. Reid went through with it and changed the Senate for the worse, perhaps irrevocably. McConnell should restore the 60 vote filibuster for nominees when Republicans win the Senate, even though the precedent set by Reid opening Pandora’s Box says that Republicans could use it to their advantage. I hope they don’t. Because if we don’t put the genie back in the bottle, very soon we will have legislation passing in the Senate on bare majorities, making the upper chamber unmistakable from the lower one, giving us true democracy (aka “mob rule”) which is not the system we’re supposed to have. It is the preferred system of progressives, because they imagine it is their destiny to be the permanent majority and need not worry about quaint notions like minority protections. But in such a system, 51% of the population can always dictate how the other 49% lives, and rights transform from being innate, inherent and inviolable to being merely transient and defined by the majority.
In a republic with a healthy respect for minority concerns, no majority can vote away the 1st amendment (though Reid and the Democrats even tried to do that this year!) on a whim. The Reid Senate legacy has put that at risk.
A return to regular order, appropriations bills passed out of committees, and a free and open invitation for all to introduce amendments and allow for transparent dialogue and voting on policy will signal to the American people that the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is working to restore its reputation. By returning to process, the important debates over ideas may reconvene.
A Republican Senate will seem a veritable fount of creativity and ideas compared to that which we have suffered through since 2006. Pick your issue, Republican Senators will have an idea; from healthcare to tax reform, energy to deregulation, the upper chamber will be a cacophony of conservative arguments and proposals, and it will be interesting to see progressive reaction to it all. Already, in anticipation of being routed, leftists like Michael Tomasky are crying crocodile tears and asking “How Can Dems Be Losing to These Idiots?” As he tells it, it’s not Reid and the Democrats who have forsaken ideas for a trivial and pathetic process approach designed to conceal their true motives, but Republicans who can’t muster anything new:
“I mean it is truly admirable, in its perverse way, how anti-idea this party is. It has no economic plans. Did you see this Times article last week called “Economists See Limited Gains in G.O.P. Plan”? I trust that you understand the world of newspaper euphemism enough to know that “limited gains” basically means “jack shit.” It’s all tax cuts and fracking and the wildly overhyped (in jobs terms (PDF)) Keystone pipeline.
Republicans know the truth about these proposals deep down, or I think most do (I suppose some actually are that dumb). But they keep peddling them like a costermonger selling rotten fruit. Why? At least in part because they also know deep down that things like an infrastructure bank are what will really create jobs. I mean, it’s the very definition of creating jobs. But they can’t be for that, because it would be a vote for Obama, and Party Chairman Limbaugh would call them mean names.”
I encourage Tomasky to look up the word “projection.” Progressives of his ilk are so contemptuous of “the other team” that they are incapable of self-analysis. The mind-numbing banality of his assertion that an infrastructure bank is necessary to create jobs is of a piece with Hillary Clinton’s recent rhetorical majesty, where she claimed almost matter-of-factly that “corporations and businesses don’t create jobs.” Progressive principles, such as they are, exist as reactions to actual grounded principle on the right. And it’s the left’s allergy to capitalism that leads it to make such asinine statements as “you didn’t build that” and “you built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for,” which in turn explains progressive insistence that the right lacks an economic agenda: when you’re utterly incompetent and ignorant of economics and how the market works, it makes sense that you’d view deregulatory and free market-informed proposals with suspicion and confusion. And that’s how you get Michael Tomasky calling the GOP an “anti-idea party.”
We desperately need an honest conversation about ideas, but just as Warren Harding promised a “return to normalcy” after the disastrous Wilson presidency, Republicans need to promise a return to proper process following the apocalyptic fail of the Reid Senate, which will allow the more pressing arguments over ideas to commence again.