Commentary Magazine


Topic: obstruction

The Sad Reality of Harry Reid’s Senate

Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.

The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:

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Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.

The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) caved on Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) demand for a vote on his bill to end aid to some Middle Eastern countries.

It now constitutes “caving” for Reid to allow a vote in the Senate–and without amendments or debate. The amendment process is key to understanding why liberal commentators get it so wrong when they complain about the GOP’s insistence on being permitted to take part in the democratic process. Reid has perfected the art of “filling the amendment tree,” which is a device he employs to use up all allowable amendment space on a bill with his own so the GOP is unable to offer theirs.

The best demonstration of how far from reality the GOP’s critics are, and the best refutation of it as well, actually came in Senator Marco Rubio’s full interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show in June. Stewart asked Rubio about GOP obstruction, and what he sees as a one-sided refusal to engage in bipartisanship. He asked Rubio: “can you explain to me why my reality is wrong?” Rubio was happy to. He explained to Stewart that in order to protect Democrats from having to take any votes—even votes they’ll win—Reid won’t let the GOP offer amendments or get votes on their legislation.

Later on, Rubio gave a few examples of Reid’s obstruction. Rubio said he put forth a bill called the AGREE Act, because it was essentially a piece of legislation that incorporated the positions that Democrats and Republicans both agreed on. He said he offered a Jobs 2.0 bill that was bipartisan as well. He couldn’t get a vote on either one, he said.

Though Rubio didn’t mention it, it’s worth here pointing out what exactly Reid was doing instead of passing bipartisan legislation. While the Senate still hasn’t passed a budget in three years, Reid was wasting Senate floor time on stunts like leveling unfounded accusations against Mitt Romney and possibly flouting ethics rules to campaign for Obama on the Senate floor–all instead of a jobs bill or a budget. Then Reid has the audacity to say that the time for amendments is over, because they have to get moving on temporary bills to fund the government, which shouldn’t be necessary in the first place if Reid were doing his job.

The Stewart-Rubio debate on Senate procedure wrapped up with this exchange:

Stewart: “There is an accountability issue within the Republican conference that I think is not a fantasy of mine, or has been made up. And in any conversation of it, it’s been ‘well those guys are mean too, and we’re not’.”

Rubio: “But you’re talking about the filibuster. The filibuster basically is requiring 60 votes on a bill. That’s what the filibuster is. I’m saying we can’t even get the vote on the ideas that we’ve offered. And so when you don’t allow the minority party to get votes on legitimate ideas, the only tool the minority party has, the only leverage you have as the minority party in the Senate is the 60-vote threshold. That’s the counterreaction to it. And that’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

Stewart: “So you don’t feel that you’ve overused your filibuster, it’s you’ve overprotected yourselves from the viciousness of the lack of voting you’re allowed?”

Rubio: “No. I’m saying the Senate isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work. The Senate is supposed to be a place where any senator can offer amendments on any bill, you have a vote on it, [and] if they don’t like it you vote against it and we move on.”

And with that, the conversation moved on as well, with Stewart duly educated and pronouncing the debate—which he was losing, badly—too technical for the show. I’ve written before about the various Senate traditions and procedures that Reid has destroyed in his ongoing quest for a debate-free, vote-free, budget-free Senate. The amendment process is a major one, however, and those mourning the end of the Senate we once knew can either continue their partisan venting by attacking Republicans or they can be honest and go right to the source. They can talk to Harry Reid.

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