Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made a name for himself by launching barbs in the Senate designed to undermine the Democratic majority. Procedural tricks, an aggressive media campaign, and the ability to get all but one member of his 40-member caucus in line for votes has amounted to a minority that's remarkably empowered. In order to combat it, Majority Leader Harry Reid has needed to step up his game.
Reid has been able to do that, but at a high cost. With stimulus packages and bailouts, Reid has been forced to get all 60 of his members in lockstep -- not an easy task, considering the gravity of the legislation that's at play. (see Nelson, Ben). This in turn has enabled McConnell to -- rightly -- portray legislation as partisan and poorly thought-out.
Some think that McConnell's hardball tactics are too much. He's smirked at supposedly-hallowed Senate tradition by making annoying procedural demands, and turned the chamber into a funhouse with gasp-inducing rhetoric.
But stimulus packages are flying through the Senate like paper airplanes in a kindergarten classroom, and health reform will restructure one-sixth of the U.S. economy in one of the worst downturns in American history. Hours before the 1AM vote, several Democratic Senators weren't able to articulate their position on the bill, even though Reid had publicly said those Senators were on board with it. If there was any time to throw tradition and respect out the window, this would be it.