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Thursday, August 5, 2010

George Packer reporting on the senate

George Packer's recent article and follow-up are worth noting. A glimpse:
It was, on the whole, an interesting and, surprise to say, enjoyable few months—a kind of adventure through a looking glass in which rooms are misnamed and the “Ohio clock” was made in Philadelphia. Of course, the institution is in a deep decline, but when you’re reporting a story like this, you don’t depress yourself, because the inquiry is bracing. It’s the poor reader who ends up depressed.

The main criticisms of the piece have come from Republicans, and their argument (for example, David Frum’s—still doing the hard work of keeping both sides honest) is that what looks to the left like obstruction is really only the minority party reflecting the public’s reservations about Obama’s agenda, and, beyond that, fulfilling the Senate’s constitutional mandate. I would answer that, on health care, for example, where the public was truly divided and, by some polls, increasingly skeptical, the Senate Republicans should have tried to negotiate a less sweeping bill. Instead (as Frum himself famously pointed out), they shut down negotiations altogether, leaving Olympia Snowe as the lone party holdout, and not for long. They weren’t trying to legislate better; they were trying to prevent any legislation at all. The same with the stimulus bill and financial reform. As Michael Bennet told me, the Senate isn’t on the level: the amount of bad faith is staggering (and yes, there’s plenty on the Democratic side as well). And the daily toll of legislative blockage is also staggering. The filibuster has become the everyday norm in this Senate—which has nothing to do with the constitution, moderation, the saucer that cools the coffee, or anything else written and said two hundred twenty years ago.

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