EX-LAX needed in 2014. Kimberly Strassel
The popular judgment that Washington’s dysfunction is the result of “partisanship” misses a crucial point. Washington is currently gridlocked because of the particular partisanship of one man: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And Republicans are warming to the power of making that case to voters.It’s often said the 113th Congress is on track to become the “least productive” in history—but that tagline obscures crucial details. The Republican House in fact passed more than 200 bills in 2013. Some were minor, and others drew only GOP votes. But nearly a dozen were bipartisan pieces of legislation that drew more than 250 Republicans and Democrats to tackle pressing issues—jobs bills, protections against cyberattack, patent reform, prioritizing funding for pediatric research, and streamlining regulations for pipelines.
These laws all went to die in Mr. Reid’s Senate graveyard. Not that the Senate was too busy to take them up. It passed an immigration and a farm bill. Yet beyond those, and a few items Mr. Reid was pressed to pass—the end-year sequester accord; Hurricane Sandy relief—the Senate sat silent. It passed not a single appropriations bill and not a single jobs bill. Of the 72 (mostly token) bills President Obama signed in 2013, 56 came from the House; 16 came from the chamber held by his own party.
This is the norm in Mr. Reid’s Senate, and for years he has been vocally and cleverly blaming the chamber’s uselessness on Republican filibusters. This is a joke, as evidenced by recent history. Mr. Reid took over the Senate in early 2007, and it functioned just fine in the last two years of the Bush administration. It didn’t suddenly break overnight.
What did happen is the Senate Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the first years of the Obama administration—when Mr. Reid got a taste for unfettered power—and then the GOP takeover of the House in 2011. That is when the Senate broke, as it was the point at which Mr. Reid chose to subvert its entire glorious history to two of his own partisan aims: Protecting his majority and acting as gatekeeper for the White House.
Determined to protect his vulnerable members from tough votes, the majority leader has unilaterally killed the right to offer amendments. Since July, Republicans have been allowed to offer . . . four. Determined to shield the administration from legislation the president opposes, Mr. Reid has unilaterally killed committee work, since it might produce bipartisan bills. Similarly, he’s refused to take up bills that have bipartisan support like approving the Keystone XL Pipeline, repealing ObamaCare’s medical-device tax, and passing new Iran sanctions.
Here’s how the Senate “works” these days. Mr. Reid writes the legislation himself, thereby shutting Republicans out of the committee drafting. Then he outlaws amendments.
So yes, there are filibusters. They have become the GOP’s only means of protesting Mr. Reid’s total control over what is meant to be a democratic body. It isn’t that the Senate can’t work; it’s that Sen. Reid won’t let it.
Pushed over the brink by Mr. Reid’s November power play—scrapping the filibuster for Obama nominees—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell began 2014 with a rip-roaring Senate-floor speech. On Wednesday he set the record straight on the Reid tactics that have created Senate dysfunction. He then outlined how a GOP majority would restore regular order and get Washington working. This is a “debate that should be of grave importance to us all,” he said.
It’s of growing importance to Republicans, who are taking up this theme in speeches and media briefings—putting greater attention on Mr. Reid’s singular role in Washington paralysis. Asked this week whether the GOP would be allowed to amend an unemployment-benefits bill, Sen. John McCain quipped: “you’ll have to go ask the dictator.” Speaker John Boehner, at a recent news conference, lamented the “dozens” of House bills that “await action in the Senate,” while Majority Leader Eric Cantor berated Mr. Reid for sitting on “bipartisan” jobs legislation.
This brings to mind Republican Sen. John Thune’s 2004 defeat of South Dakota’s Tom Daschle, which he did partly by highlighting Mr. Daschle’s obstructionist majority-leader record. The comparison isn’t perfect, since Mr. Daschle was up for re-election (Mr. Reid is not) and since the obstructionism was more noticeable at a time when the GOP ran both the House and White House. Then again, the Reid theme is the sort that will resonate with the GOP grass roots, refocusing their efforts on a Senate victory.
In an election that is going to be about ObamaCare, Republican Senate candidates are already reminding voters that it was Mr. Reid’s Senate abuse that created the law. And in the wake of the shutdown and endless government-created “crises,” more Americans are worried about the state of Washington institutions, and eager for change.
“Process” arguments are hard to make to voters, but Mr. Reid is a face for the process problem. Demoting Harry Reid won’t in itself fix Washington. But it would be a grand start—and that alone makes it a potentially powerful campaign theme.