WASHINGTON — Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts has been hailed as the man who will break up the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the Senate when he is sworn in next week.
The Democrats fear he will make the “party of no” – as they call the Republicans – even more obstructionist.
Yet even with 60 votes, the Democratic majority has had a tough time moving presidential nominations, let alone historic overhauls of healthcare, energy policy, and financial regulation.
Last week, for example, the Senate rejected a bipartisan amendment for a fiscal task force that the president said he favored. The measure was cosponsored
by Sen. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota and Sen. Judd Gregg (R) of New Hampshire, the chair and ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
Though 16 Republicans joined 37 Democrats to vote for the amendment, the 53-to-46 fell short of the 60 votes needed.
“If President Obama can’t pass something that’s very important to him [even when he gets] 16 Republican votes, it’s going to be a very long four years,” says Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee.
Republicans say that charges of obstruction are a cover for the failure of President Obama and Democrats to find consensus in their own ranks.
Democrats disagree. They point to the Republican strategy of calling for 30 more hours of debate on every bill that the Democrats move, which they consider blatant time-wasting. Because of that strategy, for example, the sum of Senate votes this week might be only two nominations: Patricia Smith to be solicitor for the Department of Labor and Martha Johnson to be the General Services Administration’s administrator.
“We all know Republicans have dedicated themselves to grinding government to a halt,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid. “They do so openly and proudly and boast about their aversion to compromise…. They’ve wasted countless hours and shattered remarkable records for stubbornness.”
The penalty for great expectations
In a briefing with reporters today, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell laid out areas where he sees prospects for bipartisan agreement in the new year. These include: support for nuclear power and offshore drilling.
“A lot of it will frankly depend upon whether the president is willing to govern in the middle or continue to be on the far left, which I think has not worked well for him in the first year and will not work any better for him in the second year,” he added.
Obstruction in the Senate is not new. “Obstruction has been a trend in the last 20 or 30 years,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. But it’s been tougher for Democrats, because of “heightened expectations about what was going to happen after the 2008 elections.”
He adds: “The dysfunctions of Congress are amplified because of the contrast with all the excitement of 2008 and the reality we now see.”