Political Animal

Blog

October 12, 2011 2:25 PM There’s no need to obscure obstructionism

By Steve Benen

The home page of the New York Times reported on Senate Republicans killing the American Jobs Act with this headline: “Obama’s Jobs Bill Fails in Senate in First Legislative Test.” The subhead read: “The vote of 50 to 49 to open debate on the measure was 10 votes short of the 60 needed to overcome procedural objections, forcing the White House to consider breaking up the package.”

There were no references to Republicans, the GOP, or obstructionism. A casual reader might not even realize that a majority of the Senate actually supported advancing the bill.

James Fallows sees a problem with this.

We have gone so far in recent years toward routinizing the once-rare requirement for a 60-vote Senate “supermajority” into an obstacle for every nomination and every bill that our leading newspaper can say that a measure “fails” when it gets more Yes than No votes. […]

Again, the subhead and story make the real situation clear. So how about a headline that says plainly what happened: “Obama’s Job Bill Blocked by GOP in Procedural Move”

It would fit. And it would help offset the mounting mis-impression that the Constitution dictates a 60-vote margin for getting anything done.

Quite right. It seems that much of the political establishment sees the current breakdown of the American political process as somehow routine — Republicans block Democratic plans; Dems block Republican plans; this is just how the game is played.

Except it’s not. The legislative branch wasn’t designed to work this way, and for generations, it didn’t. Mandatory super-majorities to even have a debate on an important piece of legislation is wholly at odds with American norms and institutional practices. The Senate used to go decades without a cloture vote — now Republicans impose multiple filibusters on nearly every piece of legislation.

As Eric Boehlert put it a while back, “The Beltway press has mostly turned a blind, non-judgmental eye while the GOP has re-written the rules for governing from the minority. Yes, the press covers many of the votes that Republicans stymie. But there’s little or no media debate about what the Republican Party is actually doing, which is practicing obstructionism on a massive and previously unseen scale.”

The public almost certainly has no idea that this is happening, in large part because the media treats the status quo as a normal way of operating, rather than an unprecedented abuse that undermines American policymaking at a fundamental level.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

Post a comment
  • Josef K on October 12, 2011 2:35 PM:

    The public almost certainly has no idea that this is happening, in large part because the media treats the status quo as a normal way of operating, rather than an unprecedented abuse that undermines American policymaking at a fundamental level.

    Be fair. The media community inside US395 is every bit as incestuous and closed off as Congress these days. They're feeling none of the pain this dysfunction is causing the country, and so have no reason to question it. There's also a natural strain of elitism to it all, the assumption that the 'arcane' procedures of the legislature are sure to be incomprehensible to the masses, and thus not worth explaining (including to themselves).

    One is left to wonder how they'll ever been shaken from their complacency.

  • c u n d gulag on October 12, 2011 2:36 PM:

    Pointing out GOP "obstructionism" doesn't fit their "both sides are to blame" narrative.

    And it would piss-off David Brooks, Tom Friedman, and Bobo's "Mini-me" - Douthat.

    I think we need another movement - where we occupy the areas in front of the MSM offices:

    We could call it O3B or OB3 or 3BO, since they all stink:

    Occupy: Bulls, Bears, and Bullshitters!

    Maybe THAT would wake them up!
    Nothing else has...

  • T2 on October 12, 2011 2:36 PM:

    firstly, I think a large segment of the public absolutely understands what is going on.
    The Right loves it, the Left is furious with it, which makes the Right love it even more.
    The problem is the Corporate Right-leaning Media that keeps this "both sides are to blame" thing going, giving cover to the GOP. I'm not sure how to solve that problem.
    The Bully Pulpit?

  • kevo on October 12, 2011 2:39 PM:

    Seemingly, our Republican brethren don't get it!

    A small "d" democratic spirit dictates compromise as the ultimate display of our values. One position gives to another on some occasions as a good faith way of demonstrating in the future it may be the other way around! The effort to enter into an agreed upon policy takes good faith from all parties. And therein rests the rub - there seems to be no desire by Boehner and McConnell and their party to engage in good faith as small "d" representatives of all their constituents.

    They seemingly are willing to destroy American in order to save it for some mythical reason (maybe their desire to see a continued corporate ascendency! -Kevo

  • Cal on October 12, 2011 2:41 PM:

    Just heard a segment on NPR discussing the vote. According to them, the public is upset because neither sire is compromising. It has come to be that whatever compromise the dems start with, if the repukes vote it down, neither side was willing to compromise.

  • cal on October 12, 2011 2:44 PM:

    1st thing repukes will do if they win a senate majority is do away with the filibuster. The very 1st thing.

  • exlibra on October 12, 2011 2:51 PM:

    [...] GOP has re-written the rules for governing from the minority. -- Eric Boehlert

    They're, obviously, taking Saddam Hussein (and his Sunni minority) as their model for governance.

    "Tutelage lysdid". Not Liz, Saddam.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on October 12, 2011 2:54 PM:

    I am sick & tired of Benen criticizing our corporately owned media for performing their assigned roles as echo chambers and message amplifiers for republican messages.

    We, the wealthy, own the media and they damn well better do what we want. "He said - he said" and "both sides do it" is as close to criticizing republicans as we will accept.

    Get over it! Heads, we win and tails, you lose is the name of the media game.

  • ckelly on October 12, 2011 3:02 PM:

    But Steve, a few posts back you made it sound like this could work as a "victory" for the Dems and Obama. What hogwash that was. Curses foiled again - if it wasn't for that meddling media I guess. The NY fucking Times no less - America's [cough] liberal rag.

    This game is fixed, the deck is stacked, the narrative has already been written...I could go on with the cliches but you get the point.

  • stevio on October 12, 2011 3:04 PM:

    All Obama has to do is call a press conference and tell the media they are not doing their job. What's he afraid of? Losing an election?

  • kindness on October 12, 2011 3:13 PM:

    Don't worry. The MSM will pick it all up the next time Republicans are in the majority and Democrats pull this.

  • Live Free or Die on October 12, 2011 3:20 PM:

    @ckelly:

    "This game is fixed, the deck is stacked, the narrative has already been written...I could go on with the cliches but you get the point."

    You get the prize. The main problem is that the reporting profession has transformed into a high-earning profession. But in order to earn you have to play by the rules. These rules include, false equivalences, and he said-she said. Rupert Murdoch was smart. When he started FOX News, he paid astronomical salaries,even though FOX was loosing money. This lead to the MSN having to raise the salaries of the "straight reporters" pundit on TV. This allowed them to send their kids to the same schools as top 1% as well as open up avenues of socialization.

    So instead of aggressively questioning a politician, they loft softballs at their friends. If you go against the Village, they will kick you out and revoke your seven figure salary privileges. This is why as a reporter you get the death penalty if you are wrong about a tangential detail, while there is no penalty for saying Al Gore created the internet or that Obama is being a dick. Imagine if George Stepnophelous had said W was a dick. Would he still have a job?

  • chi res on October 12, 2011 3:20 PM:

    All Obama has to do is call a press conference and tell the media they are not doing their job.

    Really? That's ALL he has to do?? Jesus, why didn't somebody think of this sooner!?!

    Thank you so much, stevio. Your genius has saved the day.

  • Tony Greco on October 12, 2011 3:22 PM:

    The Times has actually improved in this regard. Last December I sent an e-mail to the Public Editor, Brisbane, pointing out that a Times headline "...Senate rejects..." was grossly misleading, since the Senate had actually voted heavily in favor of the bill in question. I also pointed out that the story didn't actually report the favorable vote tally until after 18 paragraphs. Brisbane replied that he had raised the issue with the editors and reporters and they defended their use of language, but I inferred that he basically agreed with me. So, count it as progress that the Times doesn't call a favorable vote a rejection.

  • whichwitch on October 12, 2011 3:25 PM:

    @Live Free or Die and ckelly - both right on target.

    How do we get out of this mess?

  • DenverRight on October 12, 2011 3:34 PM:

    Benen: You are wrong about "The Senate used to go decades without a cloture vote..."

    Since the Cloture Rule (Rule 22) was created in 1917, the Senate had a small but steady stream of cloture votes for many decades. The longest period without a cloture vote was 2 consecutive Congresses (4 years) in the late 1920's and 2 Congresses (4 years) in the 1950's.

    After that, I agree with you that the recent number of cloture votes has risen tremendously. Unfortunately due to a rule change in the 1970's, the filibuster has become a "minority veto" in the Senate, one that now requires a 60 vote majority (3/5 of currently sworn-in Senators) to move forward on blocked legislation (or even judicial nominations).

    I would certainly favor a return to rules of the pre-1975 era, when a filibuster required those members to stand in the well of the Senate and talk without stopping, 24 hours a day, day after day. Eventually the embarrassment (or fatigue) of that spectacle would wear down even the most stalwart Senators.

    Failure to invoke cloture is currently being used effectively by Republicans to block legislation, but was also used effectively by Democrats to block Bush judicial nominees.

    Filibusters (and the necessary 3/5 votes for cloture) have definitely crippled the legislative process.

  • Marko on October 12, 2011 3:41 PM:

    The Senate used to go decades without a cloture vote now Republicans impose multiple filibusters on nearly every piece of legislation.

    And those pesky Democrats that actually filibuster along with them. Can you imagine a Republican filibustering their own party? They would have a primary opponent so fast it would make your head spin.

  • T2 on October 12, 2011 3:56 PM:

    yes Denver, the Dems did block Bush SC nominees....one unqualified crony named Harriet and some other person....but did pass Roberts and Alioto....who will be activist right wing judges for decades. But todays GOP has stonewalled dozens of Obama appointees. So the Dems filibustered some unqualified judges and that equals today's GOP's filibustering EVERYTHING that comes to the Senate from Obama.
    Only a conservative would consider that "equal".

  • Peter C on October 12, 2011 4:27 PM:

    How about this for a headline:
    "The 1% block consideration a bill to relieve the suffering of the 99%"

    It is INSANE to have to get a supermajority to stop discussing whether to begin consideration of a bill.

    If government cannot now solve problems it is demonstrably because the Republicans don't want it to.

  • SaintZak on October 12, 2011 4:36 PM:

    We live in a win/lose culture. No one really cares why or how, just who wins and who loses. That's why the Republicans win elections so easily. They're winners. If the country falters because of them, if the American people suffer, so be it. In the eyes of much of the public they're winners.

  • j h woodyatt on October 12, 2011 4:40 PM:

    We can be sure the media will suddenly recognize the problem when the Democrats return to the minority in the next Senate.

  • square1 on October 12, 2011 4:44 PM:

    Steve Benen makes a valid point: The normalization of the filibuster as a minority veto is a problem.

    But let's get real about something. The jobs bill is not going to pass. It is not going to pass. It is not going to pass.

    You could pass the jobs bill by 100-0 in the Senate and it still wouldn't come up for a vote in the House. So, in this particular case, the fact that it was blocked from a purely symbolic up or down vote is sort of irrelevant.

    In fact, I'd call it a distraction. If Democrats plan on going into the elections arguing that they are for jobs and the GOP isn't, they would be wiser to focus on the fact that the House is controlled by the GOP rather than the Senate's up-is-down procedural rules.

    It is a lot simpler to say "With the GOP controlling the House no good bills will ever be passed. Vote Democrat." than "A majority of Senators voted for the bill but we need a supermajority because the GOP blocked it and even though we support the right of the minority to block the will of the majority and we refuse to change the rules, help us get to 60 Senators, not including Lieberman, Baucus, Tester, Manchin, Nelson, or whatever Blue Dog happens to stab the party in the back on any given day."

  • Jurgan on October 12, 2011 5:02 PM:

    You think that's bad, check out this abysmal Politco article, titled "Is 51 the New 60 Under Senate Rules?"

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1011/65692.html

    The lede: "For a generation, the chamber has used many would say abused the filibuster, setting a threshold of 60 votes for doing virtually anything."

    NO. No, no, no, no, no. This has all happened within the last five years, not "for a generation." This is a very new development, not a long-standing practice. The article goes on to talk about how Reid is changing the rules, setting a precedent that will weaken the power of the minority. Never mind that the Senate Republicans are acting in a way that completely contradicts centuries of precedents- no, Politico just has to shake their fingers at Harry Reid.

  • exlibra on October 12, 2011 7:07 PM:

    NO. No, no, no, no, no. This has all happened within the last five years, not "for a generation." -- Jurgan, @5:02, about a Politico article

    Are you sure they're talking about humans? With cats and dogs, for example, you can have a couple generations within 5 years, easy. Even within the less-than-three years (it seems to me that this particular Senate dysfunction can be dated to about Jan 22, 09)

    "dgedDoc Kruglanski". What has the danged Polack done now?

  • Blue Girl on October 12, 2011 7:17 PM:

    But...but...but...Liberal Media!

    Seriously, you coulda knocked me over with a feather when I clicked the Kansas City Star website last night and saw GOP senators vote to defeat Obama's jobs bill.

  • Sparko on October 12, 2011 9:16 PM:

    Blue Girl: the Star may be starting to turn back to a real paper.

    On another note, the right wing sock puppet is back here like the old days. Must be in full retreat if they see a need post here again. One voice, a thousand pseudonyms--the GOP way. . .

  •  
  •  
  •