During the school year, I help out at a local elementary school, working with kids who have difficulty with math. Among the 4th and 5th graders, there are always boys who cannot walk across the room without throwing their weight around, poking other boys and pulling girls' pigtails. They disrupt every group they are in. One remedy? No recess. (The next step is calling their parents.)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is like those bad boys. Many people do not know that it is due to him that the Senate has accomplished virtually nothing, while the House has passed over 400 pieces of legislation. Even bills that have been passed by a majority of both houses cannot become law because Bad Boy McConnell will not allow a vote on sending them to a conference committee. We all know that McConnell would not allow a vote on the Webb-Hagel Amendemnt, leading Majority Leader Harry Reid to file a cloture motion that needed 60 votes. Since the Dems had only 56 votes, debate could not be closed off and there was no vote on the substance of Webb-Hagel. McConnell promises the same on Levin-Reed and Feingold-Reid. But this obstruction has also meant:
Senate Republicans blocked funding for the intelligence community (National Journal Congress Daily, 4/18/07), …denying our country the tools to fight the war on terror. (DPC Report)
Senate Republicans blocked a vote on reforming the Medicare Prescription Drug plan“ (Boston Globe, 4/19/07) and denied seniors lower prescription drug prices. (DPC Report)
Senate Republicans blocked raising the minimum wage (New York Times, 1/25/07) delaying a much needed raise for hard-working Americans. (DPC Report)
Senate Republicans are blocking the appointment of conferees on the 9/11 Commission Recommendations (DPC Report) leaving the United States vulnerable to terrorist threats. (Washington Times, 3/14/07)
Senate Republicans are blocking the appointment of conferees on ethics reform (DPC Report) halting progress on the “most significant ethics reform since Watergate.” (Washington Post, 1/19/07)
Senate Republicans are blocking a bill to bring transparency to campaign fundraising (The Washington Post, 05/09/07) denying the American people the right to know who funds Senate campaigns. (Washington Post, 5/9/07)
Senate Republicans blocked a vote on holding Attorney General Gonzales accountable (Reuters, 06/11/07) refusing to hold the Attorney General accountable.
Senate Republicans blocked legislation to make forming unions easier (Associated Press, 06/15/07) siding with corporations against average American workers. (DPC Report)
The details are here.
So what's the solution? As Digby has said so many times, this is not your father's Republican Party. These folks play for short-term advantage, and they play for keeps. The Senate cannot just keep rolling over in the face of these obstructionist tactics. Here are two suggestions. I've made them before, but they should be repeated until the message sinks in.
(1) No recess. If the GOP won't allow votes, then they aren't doing their jobs. Majority Leader Reid should stop caving and calling cloture votes. Instead, he should allow debate to continue, indefinitely if necessary, starting with the amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill. Force the GOPers to stand at the podium and defend a war that 70% of the people oppose. Let the Dems catalogue the horrors--the dead, the severely wounded, the impaired, those returning to society with serious problems and substandard or no mental health care, Walter Reed, all of it. Until there is an up or down vote on the amendments.
(2) No vote. If the Dem caucus is too wedded to its vacation, here's Steve Soto's idea over at The Left Coaster. If McConnell continues to stonewall, then debate something else. My idea--the bill the House just passed to make college more affordable. But don't vote on the Defense Bill until after the Senate has had a chance to go home and talk to the voters (the parents in my analogy) one more time.
While I like the no recess idea, not the least because it would prevent any more recess appointments, the latter idea has merit as well. In fact, since Bush keeps pushing the upcoming Petraeus Report in September as so important, why vote on the Defense Bill until we know what the strategy will be? What sense does it make? Wait until Petraeus makes his report, since that's evidently the thing that matters. The President will scream because he doesn't have his money, but this is Congress' only real weapon, the one thing that McConnell can't obstruct. They have to appropriate the money, or Bush can't spend it, and they should extract some mighty big concessions for doing so. Because it is McConnell who is obstructing and because the public is so solidly against the war and Bush's approval is below freezing, the Dems do not risk looking like Newt Gingrich in 1996. They have the public on their side; Bush does not. McConnell has given them the weapon, and Reid should use it.
Finally, we can all pitch in together and Ditch Mitch just like they sent Tom Daschle packing.