Democrat Patty Murray, one of my own senators, and Republican Paul Ryan showed some rare leadership in negotiating a bipartisan budget that passed both houses of congress in December. It was far from a perfect piece of legislation and it was done under duress. However, it provides an example of the sort of leadership Washington needs right now, but is sorely lacking, in order to address the myriad problems this country faces.
Kimberly Strassel wrote a useful column in the Wall Street Journal this week entitled “Harry Reid’s Senate Shutdown” (subscription may be required). She discussed the source of Washington DC’s current dysfunction, which is most often attributed to partisanship, but which she claims is mostly the result of the way Harry Reid is managing the Senate.
What I find particularly useful about her column is that she provides data to examine why there’s so little bipartisanship on Capitol Hill these days. Many in the media have blamed Republicans for the lack of cooperation across party lines. They’ve also made the oft-repeated claim that Republicans are the party of no and the related claim that they don’t have any ideas.
Let me first get on the record that I’m not a Republican and have never registered with any party. I’m happy to support good ideas from Democrats or Republicans. But I follow policy debates and politics closely and I’ve been very dubious of the above claims, so I was very interested to see some facts laid out, such as:
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.
It takes 218 votes to pass a bill in the House, so 250 votes is a significant and bipartisan achievement.
Strassel lays out what happened in the Senate in 2013:
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.
And how does bipartisanship stack up in the Senate?
[Harry Reid] 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.
A report out this morning confirms that Reid is continuing these tactics into the new year. A bipartisan bill on Iran sponsored by Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), with support from numerous other Senators including Democrat Chuck Schumer and well over half the senate is being prevented from reaching the floor by Harry Reid.
With Republican’s holding 45 Senate seats, it’s hard to take seriously the claim that they don’t have ideas when 45 members have been allowed the opportunity to offer only four amendments in the space of six months.
Anyone with an understanding of the basics on how a bill usually becomes law (see for instance Jimmy Carter’s site here) knows the important role committees play in allowing debate and amendments from both parties, which often results in some degree of bipartisan support. As Strassel lays out, Harry Reid has killed the role of committees, is writing the bills himself and in turn allowing no amendments from senators of either party.
Of course, this sort of behavior has been known to take place in the House under Republican leadership (and Democratic leadership under Nancy Pelosi). For example, John Boehner hasn’t taken up the Senate immigration bill. But work has been taking place in committees on immigration and talk on the Hill suggests this subject isn’t dead in the House. Moreover, as Strassel’s numbers demonstrate, plenty of other important bills are getting drafted in House committees with contributions from both parties and subsequently passed along bipartisan lines.
If Republicans really don’t have any ideas, as Reid and other Democrats claim, including President Obama (who himself has suggested Republicans don’t have ideas, most recently on healthcare) there’s no reason to use tactics preventing amendments. Banning amendments where ideas are given an airing and debated publicly, then claiming your opponents lack ideas doesn’t demonstrate leadership and is insincere at best. And it’s certainly not a model for addressing the challenges facing this country.
Washington needs more Patty Murrays and Paul Ryans working together to find areas of common ground during the regular course of business on Capitol Hill and not just when deadlines are forcing them to do so. Harry Reid and other members of the House and Senate who use schoolyard tactics need to change their ways or step aside so others can lead rather than frustrate.