The January deal on Senate rules forged by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell has actually held. It just wasn’t very ambitious in its scope.
The deal was designed to cut down on dilatory tactics so they could, in the words of one senator, “get back to legislating.” And they kind of have. Since the deal was reached, the Senate has produced some actual legislation of significance: the partial repeal of the Bush tax cuts, the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act and most recently comprehensive immigration reform.
But the Reid-McConnell deal didn’t aim to prevent baseless filibusters of cabinet nominees, agency heads and judges.
And so, even though President George W. Bush got his Environmental Protection Agency and the Labor Department nominees confirmed within two weeks of being sworn in, it’s now six months into President Obama’s second term and his entirely uncontroversial picks for those two departments still are in limbo.
Plus, Republicans still refuse to confirm Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, not because of any problem with his performance as acting director, but because they refuse to allow a vote until a law is passed that guts the entire agency.
On top of that, Republicans are refusing to allow a vote on several nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, knowing full well that gridlock into September will leave the board without a quorum.
Again, none of these acts of obstruction directly violates the January deal. McConnell and the Republicans are following the rules. They’re just abusing the rules to make it harder for Democrats to run the government as the people elected them to do.
When the deal was struck, Reid warned, “…what will happen if the minority continues to abuse the rules is we won’t get rid of the filibuster, but we’ll go to something like what [Sen. Tom] Harkin has pushed, where one vote is at 57, and then another vote is at 55.”
So here we are. Reid is about to put all those nominations on the floor. And if Republicans continue their childish behavior, all bets are off.
The threat has already forced Republicans to budge, signaling they will stand down on the EPA nomination at least.
Now they have to ask themselves: Are the rest of these obstructions worth the potential loss of minority powers?
Does it really matter if Cordray becomes formally confirmed, when the bankers themselves say “Cordray has proven to be a more open and reasonable regulator than they anticipated”?
Do Republicans really want to explain to working people across the country that they made it impossible for the National Labor Relations Board to function?
Will they be able to give one reason why Obama shouldn’t have his pick for Labor secretary?
Republicans are already not taken seriously as a governing party run by adults by much of the public.
Reid is forcing them to choose: Do you want to help govern or do you want to throw a giant temper tantrum on the Senate floor?
Senate Republicans behaved like big boys and girls during the immigration process, collaborating instead of obstructing. They have precious little to gain by regressing and throwing another filibuster crybaby hissy fit.
There’s only one rational course of action. We’ll see if they take it.