Monday, February 25, 2013

Will the US Senate fix the Washington mess?

I did a post on Wednesday of last week, “How to fix a broken U.S. Government,” which emphasized the importance of negotiating, a lost art from the days of Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson.  During those periods, an old hand at the job, and Johnson and Rayburn were not only well-entrenched but also well respected, could talk to his or her fellow legislators and somehow come to a reconciliation that was favorable for both side.  This mastery of politics has been gone for, let me see, at least as far back to when George W. Bush became president.

Mitch McConnell
So far the GOP hasn’t recovered from an election they thought they would win, and Sen. McConnell has never retreated from his statement to make Obama a one-term President, which obviously failed.  Joe Palermo said following the 2012 election, “McConnell now promises the next best thing: Continue to abuse the filibuster as no Senate minority in American history has and gum up the works while demanding total capitulation on Obama's part before any bill can escape the clutches of his icy, deadening hand.”  In Washington things never seem to change.

So with McConnell as the Senate Minority Leader, how is it that Ira Shapiro thinks this dysfunctional body can fix Washington?  He says the consensus is already formed and that politics under president Obama’s second term will continue to be polarized.  But he wants a “rejuvenated” Senate to be the nation’s mediator.  Somehow I can’t see Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader and Mitch McConnell coming together on any major issues, except maybe gun control.  Reid has refused to back Obama on the assault weapons ban.

Democrats do have control of the Senate and won 25 out of 33 elections in 2012, which Shapiro reads as a reaction to GOP extremism and obstructionism.  The question is whether this trend can continue with momentum leading through the 2014 elections where the incumbent President’s party traditionally loses seats in Congress.  Palermo’s article was over three months ago but now Shapiro says the country is in need of responsible adult leadership, something sorely lacking in both houses of Congress. 

Harry Reid
Shapiro the optimist thinks, “The Senate is the only realistic partner to the president in seeking constructive solutions to the nation's challenges on guns, climate change and immigration.”  I hope he is right because, aside from the economy and jobs, these are the three most important issues facing the United States.  And in continued optimism he believes the majority of the Senate is serious about facing the challenges of the country.  On the other hand we are just four days away from the $1.2 trillion in budget cuts that many say will paralyze the U.S.

Lyndon Johnson, along with Mike Mansfield, Everett Dirksen and Howard Baker are cited in Shapiro’s article illustrating a quality of leadership lost on today’s Senate.  Although Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell didn’t create the current political barricades in the Senate, it has certainly flourished under their watch.  Will they eventually retire having failed to accomplish the demands facing Congress today, or will they emerge finally as leaders who figure out that it is necessary to negotiate, not constantly call checkmate?  The ball is clearly in their court.

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