The Sad Senate: Present and Future

Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell have a lot in common: both are long term products of the Senate’s fight against meritocracy; neither has a lock on the voters of their home state; both are happy to let subordinates (Chuck Schumer; Marco Rubio/John McCain) be the face of decision making; both usually seem to be asleep, although Harry may not be. In this week’s stand-off all that McConnell had to do was nothing and he couldn’t manage that.

Since the uber-corrupt passage of Obamacare in 2009 not much has happened in the Senate. It has been Reid’s job to make sure that nothing that comes out of the House makes it to Obama’s desk – 37 bills to defund Obamacare; no budgets; nothing from Darrell Issa’s busy Oversight committee. On the other hand, it has been McConnell’s job to slow down Obama’s domestic agenda by refusing to confirm agency heads (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Labor; EPA; Export-Import Bank) and two members of the National Labor Relations Board. Appointment of federal judges has been about normal. For his part, Obama has gone forward with temporary appointments – some arguably illegal – while he has ignored Congress by unilaterally implementing part of the Dream Act, coal industry regulation, and the delay of parts of Obamacare. The rule of law it ain’t.

Within the past two months Reid unexpectedly lost badly on gun control and won with Marco Rubio’s help on immigration (which will go nowhere anyway). Now, by threatening to change the Senate rules to require a simple majority for approval of appointments – a proposition which most voters see as reasonable – Reid has done a bit to make Obama’s last three and a half years a bit more effective without giving up anything.

(As a side note, who knows what John McCain was thinking in brokering this deal. Perhaps he is looking for some karma at the White House where National Security Advisor Rice and UN Ambassador Power likely lean in his direction on intervention in Syria. Maybe he is just enjoying his “maverick” status because he can.)

Of course, there are some sub-plots going on with posturing for the 2014 elections.

–  The Senate is now 54 Democrats (including 2 nominal Independents) and 46 Republicans. A net gain of five is needed to take control with 20 Democrat and 15 Republican seats up for election.

–  The two premier Senate pollsters, Stu Rothenberg (leans Republican) and Charlie Cook (leans Democrat), both see a likely range of plus 3 to plus 6 for the Republicans in an off-year election where turnout generally favors them. Nate Silver, who was uncannily prescient in 2012, sees a net Republican gain of four to five. And that’s before ObamaCare’s implosion.

— The Republicans have a sure loss in New Jersey – where governor Christie, again placing self over party, passed on appointing somebody who might hold the seat – and three seats with some risk (Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who is a major target; Susan Collins in Maine; and Saxby Chambliss’ open seat in Georgia). Project minus 1.

—  The Democrats have a sure loss in South Dakota where Tim Johnson is retiring, at least four seats which are toss-ups at best (Mark Pryor of Arkansas; Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; and the seats of retiring Max Baucus in Montana amd Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia), and five more where the Republicans also have a real chance (Mark Begich of Alaska; Kay Hagan in North Carolina; Al Franken in Minnesota; Carl Levin of Michigan; and the seat of retiring Tom Harkin of Iowa). Project plus 4 to plus 7.

–  The Republicans need to avoid the type of divisive primaries and tone deaf candidates that they had in 2010 (Sharon Angle in Nevada; Christine O’Donnell in Delaware) and 2012 (Todd Aiken in Missouri; Richard Mourdock in Indiana). Jerry Moran, Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, appears to have an easier job than his predecessor, John Cornyn, who was faced with conservatives led by Jim DeMint who were willing to risk safe seats to move to the right. (Liz Cheney’s insurrection against Mike Enzi in Wyoming is unlikely to open the door to a Democrat.)

The odds are that in January 2015 Harry and Mitch will still be arguing about the merits of a 60 vote requirement, although, in true debate team fashion, there is a good chance that they will swap their righteously outraged positions again.


This week’s video is Harry Reid’s 2005 speech about the filibuster, revving up for  2015.




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