As Gridlock Mounts, Will Obama Push to Fix Congress?

The Senate fails to fund national defense for the first time in 48 years

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Congressional gridlock has been a problem since the first weeks of the Obama presidency, the Republican minority managing to block legislation in the Senate with such procedural tactics as threatening to filibuster. There have been a number of calls to reform Congressional rules. Now that Obama and Democrats face the 2011 Congress, in which their party will no longer control the House, will they be forced to take action? Here's what people are saying about the issue and what might be done about it.

Last week, the U.S. Senate failed for the first time in 48 years to pass an annual bill authorizing money for national defense--not over disagreement about the part of the bill that would repeal a ban against gays serving openly in the military but on procedural grounds. ... Before that, the Democrats who control the Senate failed in their efforts to stop filibusters on three other bills, including one that would provide long-term medical care for Ground Zero emergency workers who developed health problems after helping victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In a single afternoon, the Senate rebuked two constituencies revered by both parties: the military and the Sept. 11 rescuers.

The confounding actions left many in Washington to wonder whether this was an example of the dysfunction that increasingly seems to paralyze the Senate, the inevitable consequence of having a largely lockstep minority, or simply poor strategy by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who put some lawmakers in impossible binds. Or maybe all of the above.

  • More Ahead  "Gridlock and stalemate are going to be the words most often used in 2011 to characterize every step in the fiscal 2012 budget debate," Roll Call's Stan Collender predicts. "With tea party types defining compromise as a four-letter word and negotiations increasingly seen as collaborating with the enemy, especially on budget issues, it’s hard to see how much of anything--process or substance--will get done on the budget next year."
  • 'The Constitutional Option'  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein reminds us of the option, proposed by Senator Tom Udall, to review and change, by majority vote, "the Senate's rulebook, which is rarely reformed, and so increasingly misused," on the first day of a new Congress. "Udall argues that the Senate's resistance to revising its rulebook has signaled that there'll be no consequences for distorting and misusing the rules. The filibuster, for instance, has gone from a rarely invoked failsafe to a constant," Klein writes. "Democrats are going to have to make a decision on this soon: The Constitutional Option can only be used on the first day of a new Congress. So they've got until early January to decide whether it's time to use it."
  • 'A Problem of Political Leadership,  diagnoses Think Progress' Matthew Yglesias:
Barack Obama and his administration have made very little effort to stigmatize filibustering. Nor have the key members of the Democratic caucus in the United States Senate. Harry Reid has only mildly flirted with criticizing filibustering, moderates have strenuously opposed the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass key legislation, and in general Senate Democrats have spent the majority of the 111th Congress seeing the filibuster as a key tool for their own empowerment.
  • Why Republicans 'Obstruct'--and May Continue to Do So  GOP strategist and former Congressional adviser Bill Wichterman declares in National Review that people should "blame Reid, not Republicans." Talk of "Republican obstructionism," he says,

ignore[s] the fact that this is the only viable response to Democrats' autocratic and ahistoric governance of what was once the world's most deliberative body. With 47 Republicans in next year's Senate, Reid will again have to choose: govern or grandstand. If he chooses the latter, Republicans will rightly stymie his plans, gridlock will continue, and Republicans can expect to make more electoral gains in 2012.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.