Skip navigation

Moscow Mitch- true to form. MA

Sheryl Gay Stolberg 3 hrs ago

WASHINGTON — Seven months into a new era of divided government, the Republican-led Senate limped out of Washington this week after the fewest legislative debates of any in recent memory, without floor votes on issues that both parties view as urgent: the high cost of prescription drugs, a broken immigration system and crumbling infrastructure.
The number of Senate roll call votes on amendments — a key indicator of whether lawmakers are engaged in free and open debate — plummeted to only 18 this year, according to a review of congressional data. During the same time period in the 10 previous Congresses, senators took anywhere from 34 to 231 amendment votes.
The inaction stands in stark contrast to the promises of Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader. After his party took control of the Senate in 2015, Mr. McConnell vowed to end the gridlock that had gripped the chamber under his Democratic predecessor, Harry Reid, and pledged to allow both parties to offer amendments to legislation — even if it forced Republicans to risk taking politically unpopular votes.

“We’ll just take our chances,” he said at a news conference in early 2016. “You know, we’re big men and women. We’re prepared to vote on proposals that are offered from both sides.”
Instead, the Senate, once known as “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” is operating exactly as Mr. McConnell now wants it to: as an approval factory for President Trump’s judicial and administration nominees.
In his effort to remake the courts, Mr. McConnell is succeeding; so far this year, the Senate has confirmed 13 circuit court nominees, for a total of 43 since Mr. Trump took office in 2017, and 46 of his district court nominees, for a total of 99. By contrast, during the last two years of President Barack Obama’s administration, with Republicans running the Senate, only 22 judicial nominees were confirmed.
Dysfunction in Washington, of course, is nothing new, and it is especially pronounced when the House and Senate are controlled by opposing parties. This year has been worse than most. It started off with a government shutdown that did not get resolved until three weeks into the new Congress.
In an analysis of the first six months of the new Congress, the Bipartisan Policy Center found fault with leaders in both parties for “not engaging in the kind of deliberation and debate that is necessary to develop quality bills.”
The Senate’s legislative achievements have been confined largely to noncontroversial bipartisan measures — including a land conservation package and a bill cracking down on illegal telemarketing — and must-pass bills, including disaster relief and emergency aid for the border; an annual military policy measure; and a two-year budget deal lawmakers approved just before they left.
But the budget deal, the product of negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, passed over the objections of roughly half the Senate Republicans. Lawmakers had little say in its content, and Mr. McConnell permitted debate on just one amendment, offered by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, that would have cut spending and required a balanced budget.
“The Senate was supposed to be the great deliberative body,” said G. William Hoagland, the senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a one-time adviser to Bill Frist, the former Republican leader. “You offered the amendments, and you debated the amendments and you actually had a debate. I got more out of last night’s Democratic debate on some policy issues than I’ve gotten the last few months out of the Senate.”
Mr. McConnell declined to be interviewed. But in a speech on the Senate floor in recent days, he blamed Democrats for creating delays and clogging up the Senate calendar by insisting on so-called cloture votes — procedural votes that determine whether to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote — for most nominations. Senator John Thune, the No 2. Republican, echoed that point when asked if he was surprised that so little legislation of consequence had passed.
“I was not surprised by it,” he said in an interview. “Obviously we’ve been busy with the personnel business of the Senate, which is a very time-consuming task — especially with the Democrats forcing cloture votes on every judge or other nominee we bring up.”
In the foreign policy arena, the Senate defied the president by voting to end American military assistance for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen and to block Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration at the southwestern border. It passed a Middle East policy bill that rebuked Mr. Trump for withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan and included a provision aimed at undermining the boycott Israel movement. But it rejected a bipartisan measure that would have required Mr. Trump to get permission from Congress before striking Iran.
But the Senate’s legislative record on domestic issues has been so thin that a number of Republicans were left grasping for words when asked to name the chamber’s most significant legislative achievement this year.
“Did we pass the opioid legislation this year, or was that last year?” Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, asked her aide, who informed her that the bipartisan measure to address the opioid epidemic had passed in 2018. Ms. Capito paused, and a long silence ensued.
“Criminal justice reform!” declared Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa. But the bill overhauling sentencing laws, which Mr. Grassley championed, passed at the end of the last Congress, he was told. Mr. Grassley waved his hand. “Close enough,” he said.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, put it this way: “We’re at a complete standstill on the big stuff.”
Senate committees, though, have been working. The Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved a package of bills in June aimed at lowering the cost of medical care and prescription drugs, and the Senate Finance Committee has also passed a measure to lower prescription drug prices. Both are bipartisan efforts, and Mr. Thune said he expected votes on health care in the fall.
The Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a bipartisan highway bill this week, though Mr. Thune said he believed an infrastructure package would be “a heavy lift,” because the parties disagree on how to pay for it. Also this week, Mr. Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pushed through an immigration measure that would extend family detentions, over the vociferous objections of committee Democrats.
The House, with a Democratic majority under the leadership of Ms. Pelosi, left for recess a week earlier than the Senate with a long list of symbolic victories but few substantive ones, in part because the bills have passed almost universally along party lines. Mr. McConnell, who has cast himself as “the grim reaper” for progressive policies, has refused to take them up.
Democrats have seized on that refusal, accusing Mr. McConnell of turning the Senate into a “legislative graveyard” — a phrase Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, invoked in recent days when he complained to reporters about the state of affairs in the chamber, including Mr. McConnell’s recent decision to block legislation aimed at improving the security of elections.
“From health care to gun safety to climate change, Republicans just say no, despite the overwhelming consensus of the American people on these issues,” Mr. Schumer said, adding: “Leader McConnell’s Senate has been a big black hole. There has not been a single bill open for amendment all year. Not. One. Bill.”
Some Republicans say they do not blame Mr. McConnell.
“There are certain issues that the ideological divide is so great I think that if I were Mitch, I wouldn’t bring something up on the floor that would be anything more than a big debate club with no outcome,” said Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina. Floor time, he said, is the Senate’s “coin of the realm,” and it makes far more sense to allocate it toward judicial nominations and consensus bipartisan measures.
“When you’re in divided government like we are now,” he said, “you’ve got to set aside your more contentious issues.”
But other rank-and-file Republicans are grousing, including many freshmen who have had to curb their ambitions. Senator Josh Hawley, a freshman Republican from Missouri, arrived in Washington hoping to address the high cost of prescription drugs. Instead, he will report to constituents that he is the first freshman to have a bill signed into law: a bipartisan measure that restores grant funding to establish suicide-prevention programs and mental health services for police officers.
“I promised the people of Missouri when I ran for this job that I would not be a wall flower, I would not just sit back, and I would not go along with the status quo, that I would actually speak up for the issues that matter to our families, working families, parents, children,” Mr. Hawley said proudly.
He was asked if he is frustrated. “Oh, yeah!” Mr. Hawley exclaimed. “It’s totally dysfunctional.”
Follow Sheryl Gay Stolberg on Twitter: @SherylNYT.


Please Donate

%d bloggers like this: