July 15, 2013

With all the coverage of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s threats to invoke the “nuclear option” to end the Senate’s filibuster practice, you might get the idea that Senate Democrats are the wounded party here. While the mainstream media gripe about a lack of bipartisanship and bemoan gridlock in Washington, they overlook a more obvious cause of Washington’s dysfunction: The Democrats in the White House and in the Senate are plain bad at governing.

The art of the deal has been lost in Washington, and both parties – but mostly the party in power – is rightfully to blame. There’s nothing new about the Senate being hard to manage, but Reid will be the first leader in modern times to drop back and punt rather than recognize the limits of his authority and try to compensate. What further evidence is needed to prove that the Democrats are better in the minority than in the majority? At the end of the day, Democrats are better at whining than they are at governing.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the president is being increasingly selective about which laws he enforces and more assertive in using regulation, rather than legislation, to achieve his goals. With the president running the government by fiat, what’s the point in being part of a more thoughtful, deliberative, legislative process? Why would Republicans come to the table if the Democrats are determined to have it their way, no matter what — even if that means selective law enforcement and changing the rules?

So now, voters are witnessing the Senate majority leader threatening the Republican minority, and unless Republicans confirm a precise number of Obama nominees, Reid will change the rules for the Senate as a whole. Does he really expect Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and crew to cave in? What do we all know about capitulating to threats?  There’s nothing about changing the rules under these circumstances, with this tone or at this time, that will make Washington more effective.

I’ll admit: Republicans aren’t totally without fault, but they do have a weaker hand to play. It would be better for us Republicans if a united minority in the Senate and a solid Republican majority in the House would actually pass some things that we could then dare the president and his Senate allies to stall or veto.

Voters notice how unproductive Washington has become, and bad gets worse. No member of Congress wants to go home and proclaim at town-hall meetings that they are being effective legislators in Washington. Certainly no one wants to claim they are successful masters of some aspect of the art of politics in Washington. No one goes back to their home state and claims they have a legislative strategy on any particular matter, and no one gets credit for asking for or having any patience.

The Senate might confirm a few more appointments, and the president can hope his one-man rule survives the court challenges, but this approach creates a ragged set of images that voters are unlikely to want to renew in November 2014.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.