It wasn’t all that long ago that partisan liberals in the commentary routinely chided the Senate Republican minority over their members’ myopic obsession with obstructing the president’s agenda. These voices asked when the GOP would commit to governing rather than simply serving as a stick in the Senate’s spokes. The truth of the matter is that parliamentary procedure provides both majority and minority parties many opportunities to “obstruct,” “delay,” or “refuse to govern.”
It’s one thing for a party to block initiatives that will have effects with which it disagrees. It’s something else for one party in the Senate to devote its focus entirely to kneecapping the political careers of those members of that institution looking to run for the presidency. That appears to be the Democratic Party’s priority today as the party’s Senate members are reportedly preparing to press forward with some “tough votes” that will force the upper chamber’s presidential aspirants to choose between appeasing the conservative base and appealing to a general electorate.
The votes will come on the yearly budget resolution, which sets spending levels for the next fiscal year but also allows nearly unlimited amendments on most any subject. Many of the amendments are expected to come during a marathon Thursday session known as “vote-o-rama” that could last into the wee hours of Friday morning.
Democrats say a handful of amendments will put Republicans in a difficult position in which they will sacrifice something no matter what they choose. The Democratic strategy: Tack right in the votes, and we’ll go after you in the general election. Move left, and your competitors will eat you alive in the primary.
These budget amendments, coming on a special piece of legislation that does not go to the president for his signature, cannot become law, but they do force lawmakers to go on the record on controversial issues. When Republicans were in the Senate minority, they similarly sought to use budget amendments to make Democrats uncomfortable.
The Post’s reporting is correct; both sides are guilty of forcing the opposition to take votes they’d prefer to avoid. But will these particular votes that are designed to drum up news cycles focused entirely on the Senate GOP’s cruelty really be game-changers? It’s not likely.
For example, one of these politically perilous votes has already taken place. An amendment to the budget submitted by self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, himself a possible presidential contender, came up for a vote on Tuesday. The amendment proposed closing tax breaks for corporate jet ownership and would have redirected the new revenue toward American infrastructure. The measure failed.
It was the media’s responsibility at that point to take Sanders’ ball and run with it. “The GOP backs corporate greed over America’s crumbling roads and bridges,” the headlines were supposed to read. It was assumed that cable news panel segments would convene and a familiar cast of pundits would engage in a circular and repetitive debate over the GOP’s misplaced priorities. But none of this happened. The trick didn’t work.
Similarly, Democrats hoped to reignite the War on Women by forcing a vote on an amendment on equal pay for women – despite the fact that this has been the law for years, and the 2009 Ledbetter Act has made civil lawsuits against discriminatory employers even easier. An amendment submitted by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) to ensure pay fairness passed while one proposed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), which would have prohibited workplace pay discrimination for “any reason,” failed.
If Democrats hope the press will take the old War on Women torch up and run with it, they’re going to be waiting for a while. The Democratic Party’s refusal to pass a sex trafficking bill over the objection of Planned Parenthood might have permanently neutralized the charge that the GOP is untrustworthy on women’s health issues. “Perhaps Democrats thought they could score political points, or maybe they didn’t want to anger their traditional allies in the abortion rights lobby,” The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote of the Democratic Party’s pandering to the abortion lobby. “Either way, it became depressingly clear that what they weren’t thinking about was the needs of vulnerable people, mostly young women and girls, who are the victims of sex trafficking.”
In short, this seems like wasted effort from the Democrats, but it is their prerogative to force the GOP to take meaningless votes aimed at forcing the party’s members into a political corner. It’s now incumbent on the political press to ask when the Democrats will give up on politics and start focusing on governance. Don’t hold your breath.