Matt Mackowiak

Last week, President Obama blasted Congress for refusing to “act.” He’s right; it won’t. But Obama ought to focus the blame where it really belongs: on his own party. Because it’s the Democrats in Congress who are causing gridlock -- intentionally -- especially those in the Senate, which has been in Democratic hands for nearly five years now.

Expect them to keep it up. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid survived his re-election last year with a scorched-earth campaign and is shielded from voters through 2016, when he’ll be 77 and unlikely to seek re-election. He’s hell-bent on making sure the Senate does nothing -- at least until after 2012. Why? Politics.

Following the 2010 election wave, which saw Republicans pick up a net 67 seats in the House and seven in the Senate, Reid faced a choice: Compromise for the good of the country by allowing bills to come to the floor with open debate and amendments or cynically begin plotting for the next election.

Guess which he chose? As Roll Call reported, citing Democratic operatives, “Reid has been effective in protecting his members from taking votes with potentially damaging political consequences.” With 22 incumbent Dems facing re-election next year, he’s determined to skirt any action that might threaten his caucus -- and his slim majority. Public policy comes second.

The result: The only significant legislation the Senate has passed this year is so-called “must pass” bills (debt-ceiling hike, continuing resolutions to prevent a government shutdown, etc.). No legislation has passed to counter the unemployment crisis. None.

Fact is, Reid has singlehandedly made 2011 the least productive year in the Senate since before 1989, the earliest year for which statistics are available. How bad is it? Consider:

• The end of the 2011 fiscal year came and went on Sept. 30, yet the Senate had only passed one of the 12 required appropriations bills (and that was the least controversial, funding military construction and veterans programs). In recent days, the Senate finally considered three more appropriations bills -- three full weeks after the fiscal year ended.

• Under the Democrats, the Senate has failed to produce a budget in more than 900 days -- and likely won’t until next at least next February, or perhaps 2013.

• With the House in Republican hands, the Senate refuses to take any action before the House does. But, then, it also is letting House-passed bills die, instead of amending them and proceeding to a conference committee, as has been the historical standard.

• Three trade deals -- with South Korea, Panama and Colombia -- took years to pass although, when Reid finally let them come to the floor, they sailed through quickly, each with at least 66 votes.

• You may have heard idle threats of one party or the other resorting to a procedural “nuclear option” in the Senate in times past. This year, Reid actually pulled the trigger -- for the first time since 1941.

And to what purpose? To prevent a vote on Obama’s own “jobs bill.”

Meanwhile, look at the House under Republican leadership this year: The House Majority Leader’s Office reports that it has taken 800 roll-call votes through Oct. 14. Under Democratic leadership, it took just 565 by that date last year.

OK, before starting a 10-day recess this month, Senate Dems did take several dozen votes on the appropriations measure. But, again, there hasn’t been much to speak of beyond that. Which explains the palpable frustration among members, who are questioning whether they should have sought the office in the first place, and among staff, who are wondering why they work long hours for low pay and high stress, according to my Capitol Hill sources.

If Obama is truly bothered by a “do-nothing” Congress, as he says, he can do something about it: Get his fellow Democrats in the Senate to move bills, open up the amendment process, debate legislation on the floor and take votes.

Or he can just keep quiet.


Matt Mackowiak

Matt Mackowiak is a Washington, DC and Austin, TX based political and communications consultant and the founder and President of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC, providing political consulting, media relations and crisis communications assistance to campaigns, companies, groups and individuals. Since he arrived in Washington, DC, he has served in senior roles for two U.S. Senators, a Governor, in the executive branch, in winning political campaigns, and in the private sector. Over his career Matt has developed deep relationships with national, state and local media and political figures.

Most recently Matt worked with PSG client Gov. Sean Parnell (R-AK) as a senior communications adviser, providing counsel on strategy, speechwriting and media relations during the 2011 legislative session in Juneau.

In 2010 Matt served as Campaign Manager for Bill Flores, the Republican nominee in Texas’ 17th Congressional District. After winning a 5-way primary, Flores defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) by 25% in November, the largest margin of victory for a GOP challenger in 2010.

In addition to offering counsel to individuals and corporations, Matt provides political analysis for the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, BBC News, and radio stations throughout the country. Matt’s on-therecord political analysis has appeared in Politico, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, The Hill, Congressional Quarterly, the Washington Examiner, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and on ABCNews.com. He is a syndicated columnist and has had opinion columns published in the New York Post, New York Daily News, FoxNews.com, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, Roll Call, Austin American-Statesman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Des Moines Register, National Review online, Congressional Quarterly and on the popular blog sites The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post. Matt has lectured and given speeches at the University of Illinois, the University of Texas, Texas Christian University, Georgetown University, Catholic University, the University of Denver, American University and the University of North Texas.

From 2005-2009 Matt served as Press Secretary to U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (RTX), the fourth ranking member of the Republican Leadership, and three-term former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT). Earlier in his career he was a political appointee at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson and Assistant Secretary Stewart Verdery, managed the second largest county in Iowa on the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, counseled corporate clients at international PR firm Burson-Marsteller, and performed White House Presidential and Vice Presidential advance nationwide.

Matt is a Director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College, and is a sustaining member of MaverickPAC. He serves as a member of the Board of Advisors for the non-profit Luke’s Wings and enjoys helping Becky’s Fund and USA CARES.

A native of Austin, Texas, Matt graduated with a B.S. in Communications Studies (Political Communication track) from the University of Texas in 2003. Aside from his professional work, he owns and manages the popular blog site www.potomacflacks.com, which the Washingtonian has called “one of the best political blogs.” In his free time, Matt enjoys sports, live music, reading biographies, and is an avid supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the University of Texas.