House Minority Leader John Boehner shouting, “Hell no, you can’t!” across the chamber to his Democratic colleagues. Our respond – “Yes We Can !”
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RADICAL RIGHT ( by: Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, and Alex Seitz-Wald )
No, We Can’t
In order for the legislative branch to function properly and do its work on behalf of the nation, lawmakers must be willing to work together, constructively debate, and vote on legislation. Unfortunately, the emergence of Democratic majorities in Congress has provoked the rise of radical conservatives in Congress who have used every procedural tactic available to delay, disrupt, and kill legislation that would move the country forward. These conservatives have openly declared their intention to use obstructionism to “break” the President, signaling that they see the legislative process as more about harming their political opponents than enacting good policies. Through tactics like using “poison pill” amendments to sink the health care reconciliation bill, embracing an obscure Senate rule to block committee hearings, and deploying a record number of filibusters, conservatives are determined to obstruct the business of Congress by any means necessary.
POISONING RECONCILIATION: As the Senate prepares to pass a reconciliation package that will make fixes to the Affordable Health Care for America Act and reform student lending, conservative senators are ferociously trying to sabotage the bill with “poison pill” amendments designed to slow down the process or defeat the bill. Passing unpopular amendments may make the reconciliation bill fail in the House, which must now vote again on the package after the Senate parliamentarian struck some parts of the bill because of technical errors. Conservative senators have proposed all sorts of amendments designed to sink it, some of them not even germane to the actual bill. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), in a throwback to an earlier effort that was ruled unconstitutional, introduced an amendment that would bar all federal funding for ACORN, which is already set to dissolve due to lack of funds. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) proposed an amendment to deny erectile dysfunction drugs to sex offenders. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) introduced an amendment that would require a public referendum in Washington, DC on same-sex marriage even though the DC government put it into law. Reflecting on the conservative obstructionism, the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart writes, “Would that the Republicans had expended as much energy coming up with real proposals during health-care negotiations as they did these poison pills.”
HOLDING UP HEARINGS: Conservatives are not content with simply holding up the reconciliation package; they have obstructed virtually all business before Congress. They are blocking all hearings by invoking a little-known but commonly-waived Senate rule that says committee hearings can’t happen without unanimous consent two hours after the Senate convenes each day. On March 23, in the middle of a Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on transparency, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) announced that he had to stop the process because Republicans had refused to allow unanimous consent for hearings to continue. As Carper was forced to end his hearing, he lamented, “I feel very badly about [this]. It’s not my doing.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office responded to the conservative blocks with a statement noting the irony: “As they make false claims about transparency regarding health reform, they’re shutting down a committee hearing today on transparency in government.” Unfortunately, conservatives repeated the same behavior the next day, blocking a hearing on Afghan National Police Training, a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that had military commanders who came from as far away as Japan, and a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the confirmation of Goodwin Liu, President Obama’s judicial nominee for the Ninth Circuit Court. Veterans’ Affair Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI), whose hearings also had to end, responded to the obstruction. “The Senate should be a place for debate, but I cannot imagine how shutting down a hearing on helping homeless veterans has any part of the debate on the health insurance reform. I am deeply disappointed that my colleagues chose to hinder our common work to help end veteran homelessness,” he said.
A HISTORY OF OBSTRUCTION: Conservatives’ childish obstruction tactics can best be summed up by comments made by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on an Arizona radio show Monday: “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year. [Democrats] have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.” (He later made an exception for “national emergencies.”) Unfortunately, conservatives’ attitude of simply trying to delay, obstruct, or kill legislation rather than constructively work together is nothing new. At the start of the health care debate, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) summarized the right’s attitude towards health care reform by saying that, rather than working with their opponents to solve the nation’s health care problems, the right should make defeating health care reform President Obama’s “Waterloo” and use it to “break him.” The same senator also politicized the federal nomination process by holding up Transportation Security Administration nominee Erroll Southers because of his support for labor rights and held up State Department nominees until the Obama administration agreed to end its insistence on reinstating ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) — dubbed “Dr. No” due to his obstructive tactics like forcing a 12-hour long reading of Sen. Bernie Sander’s (I-VT) single payer amendment and placing a hold on a veterans’ benefits bill — told an audience in Oklahoma last month that he loves “gridlock,” because when Congress is “gridlocked…we’re not passing things.” Another common obstruction tactic used by the conservatives has been to abuse the filibuster. As liberal blogger David Waldman noted in February 2010, there were “the same number of cloture motions between January 2009 and today as between World War I and the moon landing. It once took 50 years to get the same number of cloture votes as we’ve had in just over one year with this Republican minority.” The use of filibusters and other procedural tactics to delay legislation in the Senate has been so effective that as of Feb. 23, 2010, the Senate had failed to act on at least 290 bills that the House had passed. Taking aim at some of these obstructive tactics, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) has introduced a package of reforms that would end anonymous holds, require filibuster supporters to be present and vote, and eliminate filibusters at the beginning of debates
Copyright 2010 thinkprogress.org