In a moment of eloquence almost unprecedented in the malapropistic career of Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader said Thursday, “Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, it gets worse.”
Nailed it. The hyper-partisan Democrat captured in one sentence how the Democratic-controlled Senate has managed to give Americans more reasons to hate Washington--as if we need more. Let me count the ways:
1. Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s nominee to lead the Pentagon during a time of war and looming budget cuts. There are not any serious questions about the integrity of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War hero whose major sin is crossing his old pals. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the nominee made the unforgivable mistake of opposing President Bush’s escalation in Iraq. Hagel, the former GOP presidential candidate said, was “very 'anti' his own party. We don’t forget that.”
2. The Senate spent a day arguing over the definition of a filibuster. Democrats said Thursday’s action amounted to an unprecedented filibuster of a Defense secretary nominee. Republicans said that, technically, it wasn’t. Americans don’t give a hoot. They have bigger problems on their minds than the mindless bickering over an arcane rule of a dysfunctional club of 100 posers.
3. Democrats postured. According to The New York Times, “Democrats, mindful that Republicans did not want to be blamed for jeopardizing the Pentagon’s stability for political purposes, decided to press ahead and require Republicans to record a vote against Mr. Hagel, allowing Democrats to accuse them of a new level of obstructionism.”
4. Republicans postured. “Republicans, calculating that Democrats might want to avoid forcing a vote that could result in an embarrassing setback for the president, had hoped to press Mr. Reid to back down and reschedule after the Senate returns from its recess,” The Times reported.
5. One senator led. While the circus paraded across the Senate floor, freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., reminded her colleagues that ruthless oversight of failing federal agencies is one way to make Congress relevant again. Sitting on the Senate committee overseeing banking, she publicly humiliated underperforming and unprepared bank regulators. She simply and repeatedly asked them this question: When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial? The regulators hemmed and hawed but could not avoid the obvious answer: Never.
6. And then … vacation! Yes, that’s right. After embarrassing themselves and giving Americans more reasons to distrust their venerable institution, the Senate left for a 10-day recess. In addition to an empty seat at the Pentagon, the unfinished business in Washington is staggering: Billions of dollars of haphazard cuts due to automatically take effect, immigration reform, gun control, climate change, and millions of Americans left behind in a wrenching economic transition. If you took 10 days off with this much work undone, you’d be fired.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, one of the truly great public servants of his generation, was asked how he felt about his retirement being delayed by Senate gamesmanship. “I feel like it’s Groundhog Day around here,” he joked, referring to the Bill Murray movie in which the lead character keeps reliving the same 24 hours.