As Washington is paralyzed by the “snowpocalypse” and another storm coming, images of the city’s majestic monuments in a sea of white snow bring back fond memories of my years there. Eventually Mother Nature or the D.C. government will clear away the snow, but even then Washington will remain paralyzed by something far less endearing than even yellow snow — Republican nihilism.
Last week, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) used a parliamentary tactic known as a “hold” to block confirmation of all 70-plus Obama nominations currently pending — including key national security positions. This tactic is not even in the Senate rules but has long been used by senators to block a single bill or nomination and can only be overruled by 60 votes. The use of a blanket hold for all nominations is unprecedented, having been used only one once before by former airport bathroom tap dancer Senator Larry Craig (R-ID).
And what was the weighty issue leading to the Shelby Stonewall? It is pork barrel politics pure and simple. Shelby wants President Obama to force the Air Force to reverse the award of a $100 billion contract to Boeing through a competitive bid process and instead award the contract to a foreign company that has some operations in Alabama; and also move forward on a $45 million project Shelby earmarked in 2008. For that, the business of governing the nation must come to a halt.
This is just the latest is a long list of tactics used by Republicans to turn what was once known as “the greatest deliberative body” into a legislative mosh pit through tactics such as requiring Democrats to read bills as long as 767 pages out loud; boycotting committee hearings to prevent a quorum; and filibustering funding for the Defense Department because it would delay consideration of the health care bill.
Have Republicans simply become the party of “no?” In fairness, I went to GOP.com and looked with amazement at the Republican’s list of accomplishments. The first is the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, something today’s Republicans would dismiss as “waste and pork-barrel spending” as they have with high-speed rail funding in the stimulus bill. Similarly, the site touts the creation of the Federal Highway System, but the party has done little since then as the system has fallen into disrepair.
The Republicans also include a list of civil rights achievements, including calling for integration of the military and supporting civil rights legislation. The list abruptly ends in 1957 since Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush both opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and almost all Republicans in today’s Congress get an “F” on the NAACP report card.
The party that first called for integration of the military is now using the same arguments made by those opposing integration to block elimination of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The Web site also takes credit for the fact that Republican Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, despite the fact that for half a century Republicans have railed against him as the poster child of “judicial activism.”
Yes, there was a time when Republicans stood for something and made difficult decisions that only history would fully reward but which were necessary to move this country forward. The biggest takeaway from the Web site, however, is that was 50 years ago. When was the last time the Republicans made a difficult decision that truly benefited the nation?
What has followed is “cake and eat it too” politics, giving away billions in tax cuts to the rich while leaving Americans to believe that somehow money would grow on trees to fill the gaping fiscal hole it caused. The Web site praises the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, but does not tell you that President Reagan signed a record tax hike to mitigate the fiscal damage done by prior tax cuts. That is something today’s Republicans would not even consider; instead they would rather let the Democrats make the hard choices to clean up their mess, so they can run against the pain caused by any sacrifice required. If the ship of state should run aground because of their obstructionism; all the better. That is what is at the heart of Senator Shelby’s move.
America faces the most challenging times since the Great Depression and in past crises members from both parties have risen to the occasion to do what was needed to be done. The Shelby Stonewall only highlights the fact that today’s Republicans will merely sink to new depths for pure partisan gain.
Fortunately, Senator Shelby may have overreached and illustrated what is truly wrong with Washington today. We can only hope that Shelby’s Stonewall becomes the GOP’s Pickett’s Charge; since by exposing their obstructionism Shelby may actually give the party in power the rare opportunity to run as Washington outsiders fighting for the people against the party of “no.”
Bennet Kelley is an award winning political columnist and commentator, former National Co-Chair of the Democratic National Committee’s young professional arm and is founder of the Internet Law Center.