Harry Reid’s Iron-fisted Stranglehold on the “Democratic” Process

The Founders intended for the Senate to be a slow, deliberate body that would moderate legislation through debate. James Madison wrote that the Senate should be the great “anchor” of government that would act as a “necessary fence” against the “fickleness and passion” of the House of Representatives. George Washington said the Senate’s purpose was to “cool” legislation as a saucer cools hot tea.

But there is a world of difference between being a deliberative body and an obstructed one. With the ironfisted Harry Reid in control this Senate leans sharply towards the latter. The latest example came last week when the Majority Leader predetermined the fate of a popular, bipartisan energy efficiency bill sponsored by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Republican Rob Portman (R-OH). The Wall Street Journal wrote:

Mr. Reid blamed the defeat on Republican partisanship. But the impasse really came down to Mr. Reid’s blockade against amendments that might prove politically difficult for Democrats.

The Nevadan used parliamentary tricks to block energy-related amendments to an energy bill. This blockade is now standard procedure as he’s refused to allow a vote on all but nine GOP amendments since last July. Mr. Reid is worried that some of these amendments might pass with support from Democrats, thus embarrassing a White House that opposes them. . .

Yet the White House and Mr. Reid’s dominant liberal wing won’t take the chance that a bipartisan coalition might pass these amendments, most of which the House has passed or soon would. President Obama would thus face a veto decision that would expose internal Democratic divisions. So Mr. Reid shut down the amendment process. Republicans then responded by refusing to provide the 60 votes necessary to clear a filibuster and vote on the underlying bill.

In other words, rather than allow ideas supported by the majority of Americans to see the light of day, where they could possibly reveal the fissures in the Democrats’ caucus, or force them to explain their vote, Sen. Reid simply sweeps them under the rug.

The main tool the Majority Leader uses to do this is a trick called “filling the tree.” In the Senate the “tree” refers to the slots on each bill that can be filled by amendments with the amount generally predetermined by agreement. In recent years Reid, who has the “right of first recognition,” has filled up the slots with intentionally insubstantial changes to the underlying bill, often going so far as to file amendments to amendments so that if one falls, they all fall. National Journal’s Sarah Mimms reports on one ludicrous example:

These amendments typically make very small, and sometimes even conflicting, changes to the underlying bill. One of Reid’s amendments filed on the unemployment-insurance extension bill, which is expected to pass the Senate on Monday, for example, changes the enactment date of the legislation to one day after the president signs the bill. Another changes it to two days after the bill is enacted, a third to three days, and on and on over the course of 11 different amendments, up to a six-day delay. . .

Senate Republicans tried Thursday to table (or, kill) one of Reid’s amendments to make room for one of their own. But with Democrats in the majority, that move failed on a 46-50 vote. Speaking on the floor, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called the repeated dismissal of Republican amendments “inconsistent with all of the history and traditions of the Senate.”

Majority Leader Reid has employed the tactic 80 times. By comparison the previous six Majority Leaders filled the tree a total of 49 times combined. Things have gotten so bad that even the New York Times felt obliged to lament Reid’s “brutish style,” “iron-fisted” management, and “uncompromising control” over the  process.

This is not the way of the democratic process, this is unifying control of an entire chamber in one man. As a result House-passed legislation is immediately dismissed as “dead on arrival,” Republican amendments are routinely blocked, and omnibus bills—that nobody has time to read, analyze or improve—are rushed through in a panic. And it’s all done because Democrats don’t want to take position on tough issues. But isn’t that why they were elected in the first place?

The result is a body that has moved from deliberation to obstruction. And unless something changes we’ll lose something the Founders found to be essential.