Writings and observations

ridenbaugh Northwest

When a party takes over a legislative chamber, especially by a modest margin, the incentive ought to be to play it cautiously, stay relatively moderate, and not overstep. That’s even more the case if you’re in the position the Washington Senate Republicans hold today: In effective control of the chamber (with crossover help from two conservative Democrats), even though the voters didn’t give them a majority at the ballot. Stepping carefully, and cooperating with the opposition, would seem to be in order.

That’s not been happening. You needn’t buy all the Democratic spin to get that the Senate Republicans have been operating more as if they had a large and secure majority in the chamber. This may come back to bite them.

How that may happen is suggested by an April 17 press release from Democratic Senator Nick Harper, which seems to outline clearly Democratic talking points next year:

Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, released the below statement following Wednesday’s cutoff to consider bills from the opposite chamber.

“When the Republicans took control of the Senate, they said their style of governing would be one of ‘policy over politics.’

“Four months later, their policies have proven to be purely political.

“They have operated in lockstep with the National Republican agenda, rolling back rights of working families, denying women access to reproductive choices, preventing aspiring Americans education options and doing absolutely nothing to prevent gun violence, most recently refusing to vote on HB 1840, which would have helped protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence.

“This bill passed the House with bipartisan support and was further amended in the Senate to address concerns raised by organizations such as the NRA. This is a yet another piece of common sense firearm legislation left to rot on the vine by the Republican majority.

“Their values are not the values of the majority of Washingtonians and they have demonstrated that every misstep of the way.

“This ‘Coalition’ of 23 Republicans and two ‘Democrats’ is firmly in the hands of a few far-right ideologues who have threatened to walk should any legislation that doesn’t line up with their FOX News-view of the world advance to the Senate floor.

“One session after seizing control, Washington state has at best been stuck in neutral and at worst been thrown in reverse.”

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Reading Washington

rainey BARRETT


The pros will tell you there are many “reasons” for the cowardly political end of that most minimal gun legislation in the Senate this week. They’re right. As far as they go. But none I’ve seen go far enough. So, let’s take the next step. Four words. Harry Reid – Senate Democrats.

Red state/blue state – the NRA – re-election fears – guaranteed defeat in the House of anything the Senate had the guts to pass – the most common “reasons” offered in the bars on Capital Hill. Excuses all. If you wanted to paint a verbal picture, those are the word “colors” I’d use, too. But the “artist” behind that portrait would be – Harry Reid.

Reid has repeatedly failed to lead. It’s Majority Leader Reid that sets the agenda and the ultimate legislative agenda of the U.S. Senate. Short of a very rare open majority vote to force a particular bill from committee, Reid controls nearly everything else. Support him, you live. Cross him, you might as well go home. He’s not the first with such power. He won’t be the last.

So saying, Senate Democrats – all of ‘em – should have forced their leader to use his sizeable parliamentary power to end the filibuster in the first days of the new Congress in January. They did not. He did not. Rather, Reid said he had a “handshake agreement” with Minority Leader McConnell that Republicans would be “responsible” in their use of the legislative poison pill. Well, here we are three months later and we know what McConnell’s word was worth.

Whenever someone talks about ending the filibuster, there’s always one response: “But if we do that while we’re in the majority, we won’t have it for protection when we’re in the minority someday.” While true, it’s also pure B.S. Majorities and minorities are what national elections are for. Neither party – neither – should have continuously assured status in either. It’s gotta be earned. Legislatively.

Since President Obama was elected in 2008 – from day one – McConnell and his minions repeatedly said they’d do nothing to help Obama succeed. In anything. Indeed, McConnell couldn’t have been more plain spoken. “Our goal (the GOP) is to make him a one-term President.” So which McConnell do we believe? The “one term President” guy or the other one who shook hands? One’s a liar.

Still, the 2008 and the 2012 elections not only put Obama in office and renewed his contract, they also gave Democrats the Senate majority. We – you and me – we decided the matter. It was our vote – our instruction – to give Democrats majority status to do what we expected a majority party to do – what all of ‘em said they’d do.

That’s how you get to be a Senate majority. We do it! You and me. That’s how you get to be a Senate minority. We do it! And we did it. Our instructions were not to turn a majority party into a minority, then use parliamentary maneuvers to undercut the new majority. The one we created. The one we wanted. Our votes – yours and mine – have been negated by an irresponsible minority from day one. Because Reid would not lead.

There is a procedural action called the “nuclear option” which basically means a simple majority of members can eliminate the filibuster and the 60% rule, set 51% as the requirement to pass legislation and run the Senate as a majority is supposed to. That’s how the body was set up to run. That’s how it should be. Reid won’t do it.

Yes, someday Democrats will be in the minority. Yes, someday they’ll face the 51% rule as Republicans would today. So what? If a party becomes the majority and doesn’t do what it promised, it deserves to lose that status. Because it didn’t deliver. Because it was afraid to govern.

We have more than 50 judgeships hung up in the Senate. We’re missing three commissioners on the NLRB. More than 400 senior appointments to government agencies are blocked. No boss at Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Good legislation – a lot of it needed legislation – went in the trash can because of the minority’s willingness to use the filibuster. Any appointment or bill can be blocked by any one Senator. Death for any legislation is just an anonymous phone call away.

Yes, there are many reasons why the minority was able to abort the gun safety bills. All very true. I’m sure. But, if Reid had been the leader needed in his job, it might have turned out differently. Would whatever passed the Senate ultimately been killed in the House? Probably. How? The majority would have done it outright. Not the minority. Because there is no filibuster in the House. And majority works just fine.

As long as one party – either party – is effective, voters will likely keep it in power. That’s how it’s supposed to work. “Don’t mess with what ain’t broke.” Do your job and you won’t have to worry about it.

But, the effectiveness of the U.S. Senate has been severely damaged by a politically ruthless minority long enough. Rather than concern themselves with how they’d fare in a minority, Democrats should eliminate the filibuster while they can. Immediately. Today.

When the bullet-riddled bodies of nearly 4,000 American dead since December 14th aren’t enough to drive common legislative sense, majority Democrats don’t deserve the title. And Harry Reid doesn’t deserve his job.

Bring on the coup.

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