The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“Speak the truth to one another . . . and do not contrive evil against one another . . . — declares the Lord.”
Zachariah, newly discovered Dead Sea Scroll fragment.
You remember the Golden Rule we learned in kindergarten: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Mitch McConnell has ignored it and now he’s threatening “scorched earth” in the Senate if the Democrats do unto him what he did unto them.
In short, the Kentucky Republican, a menace to democracy, doesn’t want the Democrats to take advantage of their Senate majority — the way he did when the GOP ran the chamber. The Democrats want to change the rules so 60 votes aren’t needed to end debate and pass a bill.
The current filibuster setup has crippled the Senate like a broken axle. It has been used far too often and unfairly under McConnell to prevent legislation offered by the Democratic majority from passing.
The Senate introduced the filibuster in 1806. It permitted unrestricted debate. It changed the rule in 1917, requiring a two-thirds vote to end debate, a so-called cloture motion. It changed again in 1975, requiring three-fifths of all senators, usually 60 votes.
Originally, if you opposed a bill and wanted to filibuster against it, you had to talk for as long as it takes until a cloture motion was invoked and passed, ending your debate so a vote could be taken. Members of the chamber had to be in session to hear you, kind of like Jimmy Stewart in the classic 1939 movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
It’s easier to conduct a filibuster now because a senator can duck the speechifying and no other senators are required to be in the room. And it takes putting together 60 votes, not a mere 51 majority, to end debate on a bill. Fully 328 cloture motions were filed in the previous Congress from 2019–2020. Filibusters once were rare.
So, President Joe Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, wants to return to the old ways because the current system isn’t working; the Republicans can thwart a Democratic pipeline filled with progressive legislation they oppose.
“It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning,” Biden told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News.
As onetime House Speaker Sam Rayburn famously said, “If you want to get along, go along.” McConnell seems to be ignoring that advice, too. He has threatened harsh retaliation if the Democrats change the filibuster rule by further blocking Senate action.
“Let me say this very clearly for all my 99 colleagues,” he said. “Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin — can even begin — to imagine what a completely scorched earth Senate would look like — none. None of us have served one minute in a Senate that was completely drained of comity, and this is an institution that requires unanimous consent to turn on the lights before noon.”
What he means is that all of the senators agree by unanimous consent to conduct business without reaching into hidden rules that virtually could halt all business.
“Does anyone really believe the American people were voting for an entirely new system of government by electing Joe Biden to the White House and a 50–50 Senate?” he asked. “There was no mandate to completely transform America by the American people on Nov. 3.”
That’s McConnell’s view. But more than 81 million people voted for Biden, the most ever for a presidential candidate.
Biden wants to go on a road trip, a victory lap following the passage of his landmark $1.9 trillion virus relief package. But it would be a good opportunity to make it a campaign-style excursion with an eye on the 2022 midterm elections.
Why? Because Biden’s slim congressional majority has a potential 2022 sell-by date. And the midterms have a tendency of favoring the party that’s out of the White House. So, the president needs insurance runs, time to get his huge agenda through Congress.
Biden and most of his Democratic backstop, particularly in the House, want to advance many progressive ideals for the people and the country (the good). They lost years to Republican obstruction in the Senate (the bad) under its unmerciful, hypocritical leader McConnell and his conservative majority ruling as a minority (the ugly).
The president has put aside his campaign pledge to seek bipartisanship with the Republicans, perhaps understanding rather rapidly that it wouldn’t help efforts to get their approval for such major projects as rebuilding the country’s infrastructure to reforming immigration to ensuring racial justice to a host of other needs, including promoting renewable energy to deal with climate change and adopting a $15 minimum hourly national wage.
Republicans deny climate change, side with oil and gas drilling and appear unfriendly to spending what certainly would be hundreds of billions of dollars needed on infrastructure other than wanting to build a useless border wall as a symbol of their opposition to immigration.
As Zachariah quoted God, do no evil.
Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor at United Press International, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.