Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Civil Debate A Naive Dream

Former Members of Congress for Common Ground, a 131-member bipartisan group "seeking a civil and productive 112th Congress," has sent a letter to all congressional candidates. It argues

Congress appears gripped by zero-sum game partisanship. The goal often seems to be more to devastate the other side (the enemy, no longer the honorable adversary) than to find common ground to solve problems, much less to have a spirited but civil debate about how to do so.

The divisive and mean-spirited way debate often occurs inside Congress is encouraged and repeated outside: on cable news shows, in blogs and in rallies. Members who far exceed the bounds of normal and respectful discourse are not viewed with shame but are lionized, treated as celebrities, rewarded with cable television appearances, and enlisted as magnets for campaign fund-raisers.

Meanwhile, lawmakers who try to address problems and find workable solutions across party lines find themselves denigrated by an angry fringe of partisans, people unhappy that their representatives would even deign to work with the enemy. When bipartisan ideas are advanced, they are met by partisan derision.


You know what comes next:

Both parties share in the blame for this sorry state of affairs. Still, without action by both parties to work together to address the problems that face our country....

(Still? Wouldn't that be "therefore?")

Commondreams.org has found that with Democrats in the minority in the 108th Congress (2003-2004) and the 109th Congress (2005-2006), there were, respectively, 62 and 68 cloture motions filed. With Republicans in the minority in the 110th Congress (2007-2008), a record 139 cloture motions were filed and as of September 21, 2010, 118 cloture motions had been filed by the Republican minority in the 111th Congress.

There is no better metaphor for The Party of No than South Carolina's Jim DeMint, who in July 2009 vowed of the President's health care initiative "If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Ten days ago, Politico reported

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint warned Monday evening that he would block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days of the pre-election session.

Bret Bernhardt, DeMint's chief of staff, said in an e-mail to GOP and Democratic aides that his boss would place a hold on all legislation that has not been cleared by both parties by the end of the day Tuesday.

Any senator can place a hold to block legislation — and overcoming that would require the Senate to take time-consuming steps to invoke cloture, which would require 60 votes.

With the Senate slated to adjourn Thursday until after the elections, DeMint's stance could mean trouble for Democrats if the two parties don't quickly agree on a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating past Sept. 30. And that could mean the demise of a slew of other stalled and largely noncontroversial bills that both parties are looking to clear before Election Day.


In the Rolling Stone interview to appear in the magazine later this month, President Obama explains that during the transition period, he needed to put together an economic recovery package and

I still remember going over to the Republican caucus to meet with them and present our ideas, and to solicit ideas from them before we presented the final package. And on the way over, the caucus essentially released a statement that said, "We're going to all vote 'No' as a caucus." And this was before we'd even had the conversation. At that point, we realized that we weren't going to get the kind of cooperation we'd anticipated. The strategy the Republicans were going to pursue was one of sitting on the sidelines, trying to gum up the works, based on the assumption that given the scope and size of the recovery, the economy probably wouldn't be very good, even in 2010, and that they were better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve the problem

Oddly, Obama at the time apparently believed he could transcend the obstructionism promised him by the GOP. At virtually every turn, including on the (size of) the stimulus, health care reform (with no public option), and the financial reform legislation (failing to end too-big-to-fail), Democrats have constructed tepid legislation intended to garner sufficient support from Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats to avoid a filibuster. How to respond to a party which would filibuster an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, legislation which would provide loans and tax relief for small businesses, a defense-authorization bill, campaign financing disclosure and so much more?

Evidently, by pretending both parties share in the blame for this sorry state of affairs.

If in fact the GOP gains control of the U.S. Senate, it will be only through victory of some of the candidates DeMint has helped bankroll through his leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund. According to polls, most of DeMint's favored candidates- Sharron Angle of Nevada, Ken Buck of Colorado, Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Joe Miller of Alaska and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware- are ahead in their races. Their election would send a clear messsage: if partisanship in pursuit of extremism was no vice 46 years ago, now it is only a virtue.









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