Congress hasn’t accomplished much this year, but at least our politicians are displaying a flair for political theater.
Starring in the Senate productions is Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is ably supported by a cast that includes Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). They put on a show last week featuring an all-night Senate session convened to play to the anti-war crowd. The plot-line for this one-night-only production: a Levin-Reed amendment to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq beginning in four months. The slumber party got rolling after a candlelight vigil with anti-war activists and continued through the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Though the theatrics didn’t persuade the chamber to bring the measure up for a vote (it fell eight votes short of the 60 needed for cloture), Reid and crew did receive some sympathetic media reviews, which seemed to be their main goal after all.
It also provided an opportunity for the left to rail against conservatives. Liberals squawked that the minority wasn't playing fair -- that opponents of the measure should have let the outcome be determined by a simple majority vote. Funny how dramatically things have changed now that liberals run the show. When Reid served as minority leader, he employed the 60-vote threshold repeatedly -- to the applause of those now grousing about the “obstructionist” gambit.
Reid's not likely to get 60 votes anytime soon, but that won't stop him from returning to Iraq every chance he gets. The Democratic leadership seems convinced that bad news in Iraq is good news for them politically. It's why Reid staged his stunt last week and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) employed a similar strategy in the House a week earlier. Their political success at home is tied to a military failure in Iraq.
"We are going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war," Reid boasted earlier this year to the Washington Post. "Senator [Chuck] Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding."
As chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, it's Schumer's job to help his party win elections. But in the process of making electoral gains, he and Reid have brought the Senate to a stalemate.
Democrats now complain that Republicans are holding up legislation. That may be partly true, but only because the 49 senators in the minority demand at least some input about the policy-making process. “All modicum of courtesy has gone out the window,” said Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott (Miss.), who used to have Reid's job as majority leader.
And Iraq is by no means the only contentious policy question on the agenda. On nearly every issue, from spending bills to President Bush's nominees, senators have been unable to come together to get things done. Two bills stuck in limbo deal with the 9/11 Commission recommendations and congressional ethics reform.
On the first, Democrats cite Republican obstructionism for the lack of progress. But it's really the Democrats who aren't sincere about implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations as they pertain to Congress. Congressional oversight was major criticism expressed by the commission, yet members of both houses refuse to take the steps necessary to revamp the committee structure to oversee the intelligence community.
Too many politicians have no problem telling others how their business should be done, but cast a blind eye upon suggestions on how best to put their own house in order -- be it improving oversight of national security initiatives or adopting much needed ethics reforms.
Despite promises to “do something” about the ethics and lobbying scandals that have rocked both parties, the reform bill championed by Reid and Pelosi is going nowhere fast. Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.), a staunch fiscal conservative, wants to ensure that tough earmark-reform language the Senate agreed to on a 98-0 vote is preserved. Reid won't make that guarantee and has enlisted liberal special-interest groups to pressure DeMint. So far it hasn’t worked.
Now, with time running out before the August recess, senators are scrambling to get something -- anything -- done to boast about back home. Their greatest accomplishment -- and the only fulfilled promise in the "Six for '06" agenda -- was enactment of a minimum-wage hike. Nearly all of the blame falls on Reid, who can’t get consensus in his own party let alone the full Senate.
Perhaps if congressional leadership would stop indulging in fruitless, time-consuming theatrics over Iraq, they might to get something done.