No longer. The Senate has undergone a marked transformation, symbolized by increased partisanship, blockading for the sake of blockading and even some downright personal nastiness.
A few examples:
First, the partisanship. According to Yahoo’s Chris Wilson, who last month broke down each senator’s votes up to that point in 2013, 22 Democratic senators had voted the exact same way on every single piece of legislation that had come before the chamber. When examining the senators who had voted together at least 75 percent of the time, Wilson found only two moderates who bridged the middle ground between the two sides: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) were genuine outliers, having voted with no other senator — of either party — at least 75 percent of the time this year.
Then, the blockading. As The Post’s Juliet Eilperin noted in a Fix post last week, there are currently 15 judges nominated by President Obama awaiting votes by the full Senate. Thirteen of the 15 — or roughly 87 percent — of those nominees were approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee. And even those who get votes often have to wait forever for them. On March 11, for example, the Senate confirmed Richard Taranto for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit by a vote of 91 to 0, 484 days after the president nominated him — and he’s far from the only example of that trend.
And, finally, the nastiness, which may be the most striking break from the old ways of the Senate. Take Ted Cruz, the newly installed Republican senator from Texas. In his first three months in Congress, Cruz has clashed with everyone from Sen. John McCain (an Arizona Republican who referred to Cruz and a few other tea-party-aligned Republicans as “wacko birds”) to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who, after Cruz questioned the constitutionality of gun legislation she backed, scolded him by replying, “I’m not a sixth-grader.”
Former Louisiana senator John Breaux (D), a noted moderate who retired from the chamber in 2004, blamed the Senate’s changed atmosphere on several factors.
“Large numbers of senators are former House members and try to turn the Senate into a tightly structured second House,” Breaux explained. “They get over that after a couple of years, as I did, but the turmoil it creates can cause dysfunction. Add to that a fewer number of centrists from both parties, and we have the difficult situation we see today.”