Chances for the partisan gridlock in Washington to get even worse next year increased last week with the victory in Texas of the Tea Party-backed candidate for the Republican Senate nomination.
Ted Cruz, heavily favored in November to win the seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), said he isn’t going to Washington to compromise with the Democrats. That syncs with Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who declared his approach will be “confrontation” and not “working with the other side,” and bipartisanship means Democrats must support Republican measures.
That is the theme of the Tea Party movement, whose unofficial leader in the Senate is Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He expects Cruz to strengthen hard-line conservative ranks in the Republican caucus when he joins like-minded senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. At least a third of the GOP candidates in 18 contested Senate races this year have Tea Party backing, which was instrumental in giving Republicans control of the House two years ago, driving it even farther to the right.
As their ranks grow it is possible Tea Partiers will challenge Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for leadership, either directly by taking away his job or, as they did to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the House, by forcing him to follow their lead.
The 112th Congress, currently on an extended recess to campaign for an undeserved reelection, has been one of the most unproductive in history thanks to a Republican party that puts extremist ideology ahead of the national interest, and a confused, ineffective Democratic caucus.
Gridlock has been exacerbated by a Democratic president reluctant to use his vaunted skills as a communicator and the power of his bully pulpit to effectively advocate for traditional Democratic positions.
A freshman Republican congressman, Richard Hanna of New York, last week excoriated his colleagues as “incapable of governing” and said Democrats have “less anger” than Republicans toward the other side, Politico reported.
“We render ourselves incapable of governing when all we do is take severe sides. I have to say that I’m frustrated by how much we — I mean the Republican Party — are willing to give deferential treatment to our extremes in this moment in history,” he told the Syracuse Post-Standard editorial board.
Five-term Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette, one of the vanishing breed of moderate Republicans, unexpectedly announced his retirement last week, blaming “the current” climate of deadlock and rancor in Washington.
Just before the 2010 by-election, Senate Republican Leader McConnell told the National Journal “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He wasn’t just talking about the opposition party working to defeat its rivals. His spokesman explained that McConnell’s top goal was blocking Obama’s policies. Obstruction, not compromise, has been the aim and the result, even when it meant preventing passing legislation that had the support of Republican voters.
A CNN poll last year showed that although clear majorities of Republicans support some Obama proposals — raising taxes on millionaires, cutting payroll taxes for all workers, providing federal aid to states to hire teachers and first responders — they want them to fail because they are Obama’s.
Harry Truman ran in 1948 against the Do Nothing Congress. This one might be called the Just Say No Congress.
Republicans have repeatedly used the filibuster to block Obama’s policies and nominees, even when they had bipartisan support. Last month they blocked the nomination of Robert Bacharach, a noncontroversial Oklahoma judge; even his state’s two Republican senators, who had backed him, voted to block rather than give Obama a win. The vote was 56-34 in support, four shy of breaking the GOP filibuster.
With their unprecedented use of the filibuster, Republicans have forced Democrats to get a super majority for any measure they want to pass in the narrowly divided chamber. The result is Democrats are less inclined to compromise, and little gets done.
That presents Republicans with a dilemma of their own creation. By making sure Obama got nothing, they produced nothing themselves, and now face angry and disappointed voters who rate this as probably the worst Congress in history.
And it will only get worse. Not only because of uncompromising ultra-conservatives like DeMint and his followers but also because the next Congress is very likely to be narrowly divided no matter which party controls the two chambers, and whichever man wins the White House in November the other party will see the 113th Congress as payback time.
If Obama wins a second term, look for Republicans, whether in the minority or majority, to continue working to prevent him from achieving his goals. And if Mitt Romney is victorious, it will be payback time for the Democrats when his appointments and agenda go to Capitol Hill.
The Senate will once again be the graveyard for legislation and nominations unless leaders of both parties get together and fix some of their obstructionist rules, particularly the filibuster and secret holds, to make sure the next president, no matter who he is, can govern.
Douglas M. Bloomfield is the president of Bloomfield Associates Inc., a Washington lobbying and consulting firm. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.