Now it’s the Senate’s turn to be dysfunctional

November 24, 2013

For some time now, the House has been called “dysfunctional” by critics on the right and the left. House hard-liners were largely responsible for the government shutdown. The speaker has undergone a series of ordeals, including the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the “fiscal cliff,” because a significant segment of his caucus is entirely unrealistic. But now the House is, if not picture-perfect, at least doing its job professionally.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

To the dismay of liberals and right-wing immigration reform opponents (both rooting for failure), Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) promised that immigration reform was coming. The House has already done its work in passing Iran sanctions, intelligence reauthorization and a variety of economic and energy-related bills, as his staff was delighted to point out. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is reportedly narrowing in on a budget deal with modest spending cuts and some discrete trades for sequestration relief (thereby allowing some much-needed defense spending, but keeping the spending straitjacket in place with no tax hikes). The back-benchers seem to have been tamed, if not charmed.

In fact, Boehner somehow managed to come through the shutdown fight in better standing with his caucus than when he went in. Intentional or not, his loose reins allowed the back-benchers to blow off steam and, frankly, embarrass themselves. Most of the caucus now seems ready for business.

The Senate, meanwhile, is a mess. Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the trigger on the “nuclear option,” which many liberals are already regretting and which will make it hard to do anything of note in that body. He has potentially transformed the political landscape, which is likely to result in even rockier and more partisan politics in the year ahead.  The Senate has yet to pass a defense reauthorization act. Iran sanctions will have to wait until December.  The sole achievement is an immigration reform bill so large and cumbersome that even the president is amenable to breaking it up and following the House’s demand for a series of separate bills.

And worst of all, Reid has bottled up Obamacare “fix” legislation, desperately needed by imperiled red-state Democrats trying to shield themselves from the health-care debacle. As seen in falling poll numbers for a number of Democrats up in 2014, Reid may be a year away from turning over the gavel to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and a band of aggrieved Republicans with every intention of using new filibuster rules to their advantage.

I have wondered for several months: What are the Democrats supposed to run on in 2014?

Voted for Obamacare but didn’t know what was in it.

Couldn’t get my leader to allow votes to  fix Obamacare.

Ran interference for the White House on scandals.

Let entitlements balloon.

Made it possible to jam through unqualified nominees.

Refused to budge on the Keystone XL pipeline.

None of those really seem to sing, you know? And what would they do if elected (and if, good golly, the House flipped)? No one really doubts that Reid and Obama would cook up two years of big government legislation, like we saw in the first two years of the Obama presidency, tax hikes and a bevy of appointments of extreme and marginally qualified people whom the GOP would be powerless to stop.

In short, Reid has helped make an excellent case for why the country would be better served by a GOP majority in the Senate. It’s not what he had in mind, but it would be a satisfying comeuppance if the Republicans could pull it off in 2014.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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Jennifer Rubin | November 24, 2013