Senate Democrats launched a third consecutive filibuster of the bipartisan defense appropriations bill yesterday, once again blocking consideration of legislation that would fund the United States military and pay members of our armed forces. Yes, it's okay to be thoroughly perplexed by this development. Remember, the ostensible reason that Democrats have engaged in this obstruction over recent months -- which also entailed filibustering the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill -- was to exploit the troops and veterans as leverage to force Republicans to agree to higher federal spending on unrelated matters. It was a cynical play, but thanks in part to President Obama's hyper-partisan veto, it worked. Leadership in both houses huddled together and hammered out a noxious budget deal that raised spending caps on both defense and domestic discretionary spending, relying on gimmicks to "pay for" the increased outlays. In other words, Democrats got what they wanted. And yet, here they are filibustering the defense bill again, after the passage and signing of the budget compromise. Why? I spoke to several Senate Republican aides last evening who were mystified by Democrats' knee-jerk intransigence. The idea, it seems, is that Harry Reid is paranoid that Republicans will pass the defense bill at heightened spending levels first, then renege on the contours of the new budget agreement by passing other spending measures at lower-than-agreed-to levels as a continuing resolution. Senate Republicans have no intention whatsoever of doing this, I'm told (GOP leaders called this "delusional" and a "conspiracy theory"), but that's the excuse Democrats have conjured to justify their latest obstructionist gambit.
One source told me he suspects Reid's real goal is to run out the clock until the December 11 deadline to fund the government is imminent. This would force the Senate to roll all of its separately-crafted appropriations bills (all 12 of which have been passed out of committee for the first time in six years, by the way) and roll them into a giant "omnibus" spending bill. This serves the purpose of undermining "regular order," in which Congress spends taxpayer money according to the normal rules, along a normal schedule. Harry Reid's Democrats totally abandoned regular order when they held the majority, often declining to even propose any annual budget at all, despite their legal obligation to do so. Today's Democratic Party is bizarrely invested in a governance-by-crisis model, wherein they retain the ability to use manufactured "emergencies" to help advance their ideological agenda -- secure in the knowledge that when push comes to shove, much of the media will help them blame the resulting dysfunction and brinksmanship on Republicans (who are rarely blameless, I should add). Their latest filibuster takes this legislative nihilism to a new level, managing to draw the ire of Sen. Lamar Alexander, a mild-mannered, cooperation-minded Republican from Tennessee. He took to the Senate floor yesterday to warn his Democratic colleagues that their maneuvering is ushering in an era of even more acute partisan acrimony, vowing to help take the lead on scorched-earth tactics if this continues:
What [Senate Democrats] propose to do is block our moving to the appropriations bill for the defense of this country for the third time – for the third time. And there is no justification to do that. You are going to set in motion an irreversible trend of partisanship in the Senate – and I am going to lead it...[Budgeting and appropriating money] is our job. And they blocked it twice. And they're getting ready to block it again with a vote today. I'm saying, 'don't go there.' All of these Democratic provisions don't have to be in...any of the [spending] bills because we have the majority, and you don't. So if you're going to play that kind of game, we can play it too. I'm not one who usually does, but I am able to play. I'm able to play, or I wouldn't have gotten here.
Undeterred Democrats "went there" anyway, apparently unmoved by Alexander's plea, and unconcerned about Republican reprisals. (In fairness, why should they be concerned?) They did, however, suddenly relent on the VA bill, at long last allowing the upper chamber to take up that funding bill -- mere days, coincidentally, before many members return home to commemorate Veterans Day, perhaps presenting political optics problems. Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn applauded this baby step toward rational governance on the floor, taking Democrats to task for their addiction to "dysfunction for the sake of dysfunction." But from Democrats' perspective, if it's (usefully) broke, don't fix it. It's that sort of mentality that leads zealots to dismiss attempts at passing legislation to fund the United States military as "a waste of the Senate's time."