By Robert Borosage
Campaign for America's Future
August 2, 2007
“The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail ... and so far it's working for us."
—Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Roll Call, April 18
A partisan minority in the U.S. Senate has blocked legislation that would lower the price of prescription drugs for seniors, invest in alternative energy sources while cutting subsidies to oil companies, require U.S. soldiers get adequate rest and training at home between tours in Iraq, and empower employees to join together to form unions at work. Each of these enjoyed the overwhelming support of the American people, and majority support in both the House and Senate.
In all, Senate Republicans have launched 43 filibusters in the first seven months of the Congress, on a pace to triple the previous record. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has brazenly announced that every “controversial measure” will face a filibuster in the Senate, trampling majority rule to require 60 votes to cut off the filibuster. No longer can reforms be passed on a clean up-or-down majority vote in the Senate.
President Bush has vetoed legislation that would require him to end the occupation of Iraq and would allow stem cell research to go forward. Each of these enjoyed overwhelming support from the American people and passed the House and Senate. In all, the president has threatened 31 vetoes between May 1 and August 1, including a threat to legislation that will extend health care to millions of children, lower interest rates on student loans, and increase monitoring of food and other imports through our nation’s ports.
The Republican minority in the Congress is now planning to use this August recess to rail against the “do-nothing” Congress. Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., has reportedly distributed talking points about the failure of the Congress to get things done. Already the House and Senate minority leaders are trotting out laugh lines about the “post-office Congress” that does nothing but name post offices and launch divisive witch hunts against the administration.
This is akin to someone mugging the postman and then complaining that the mail isn’t delivered on time. In fact, the Bush White House and Republican minority have pursued a systematic and openly admitted strategy of obstruction.
Stopping Progress For Partisan Purpose
Their purpose is clear. With the public soured on Republican misrule under former House Republican leader Tom DeLay, and angry about the Iraq debacle abroad and kitchen-table pressures that go unaddressed at home, Republican support has tanked. So their strategy is to block progress and then indict Democrats for running a “do-nothing” Congress. They’ll bring down the temple in the hope that both parties will be equally discredited in the rubble.
Conservatives openly gloat about the strategy. As conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer put it on Fox News, “I think this will give the Republican the one opening they are going to have in 2008. Everything is running against the Republicans, but I think they have a chance if they argue that the Democrats have been in charge and they are the do-nothing Congress”.
If not exposed and challenged, this brazen strategy will sacrifice popular reforms for partisan political purposes. The public wants change. They elected the new Democratic majorities to get us out of the war and to change our course at home. They are and will be increasingly frustrated if nothing happens. And they could well end up blaming the majority for not producing, not understanding that the minority is sabotaging any progress. If this happens, it will only increase gridlock in Washington at a time when the country desperately needs and wants a change of course.
Obstruction And The Public Response
Currently the strategy has had mixed results. The popularity of the Congress has plummeted, as has that of congressional Democrats generally and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid specifically. But to date, even in swing districts, polls show voters preferring Democrats and the promise of change to Republicans and the failures of the past. But McConnell and other Republicans tout the declining poll numbers for Democrats generally as a tribute to the success of their strategy.
Democratic leaders, of course, have charged the Republicans with obstruction. But for many, this just sounds like partisan bickering, the inside-the-Beltway politics that Americans loathe. Voters expect legislators to work together to get things done. They hold the majority responsible for finding a way to move forward. They don’t realize that the Republican strategy of obstruction isn’t business as usual. It is a brazen effort to block reform for partisan advantage.
Expose The Truth
In this context, it is vital that independent voices—bloggers, citizen groups, unions and consumer advocates—join together to expose this strategy and to hold accountable those who are supporting it. This has already begun on many blogs, through Media Matters and Air America. But with the Republicans planning to use the August recess to take their charges back to their states and districts, it is time for a citizen campaign to expose the truth.
Journalists should be challenged to question politicians who dare indict the Congress for doing nothing even as they have been supporting the filibusters and vetoes that have blocked action. Citizens should hold their legislators accountable, demanding that they break with the obstruction strategy. Politicians should be challenged in town meetings, and face barrages of calls and letters. Newspaper editorial boards, and radio and TV talk show hosts, should be challenged to ask the legislators how they can complain about nothing getting done when they are part of the minority blocking progress.
Resources For The Debate
The Campaign for America’s Future is joining with a range of groups to provide resources for this effort to expose the obstruction. CAF will release a video on YouTube to dramatize the strategy, inviting people to share it with their friends. CAF will provide an up-to-date web page on the filibusters and the veto threats, including the voting record of each senator on efforts to stop the filibuster and allow an up-or-down vote. We will work with activists from Americans United, USAction, Moveon.org and other groups to hold press conferences in states challenging senators who have joined the minority that is blocking vital reforms. ThinkProgress and MediaMatters have already published extensive reporting challenging the strategy of obstruction.
To make this work, citizens across the country—particularly those whose senators are part of the obstructionist minority—have to get involved. Challenge your media to expose the truth. Challenge your legislators in town meetings. Write your friends to flood your legislators with the demand that they stop their obstruction and allow needed changes to go forward.
The only way we can gain an honest debate in Washington—in which vital reforms can be passed with an up or down vote—is to insure that those who join the minority blocking progress for partisan purposes are held accountable, and decide that the strategy is too controversial to pursue.
Robert L. Borosage is co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future.