Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with Minnesota Senator Al Franken in September. Bloomberg
Review & Outlook
The Senate Referendum
The Reid-Obama Democrats face an election reckoning.
Oct. 28, 2014 7:12 p.m. ET
With Election Day approaching, so is the democratic day of reckoning for the Democratic Senate class of 2008. Those are the Senators who gave President Obama and Nancy Pelosi the accidental 60-vote supermajority they needed to pass the burst of liberal legislation in 2009-2010 that had been pent-up for a generation—especially ObamaCare.
Now these Senators are all again on the ballot, most of them pretending in one way or another that they have had little to do with that agenda, or want to reform it, or are really the solution to gridlock.
The truth is that they are the main Washington problem. As President Obama said last week, they “are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda.”
They have also been handmaidens to Harry Reid , the Majority Leader who has devoted the last four years to protecting Mr. Obama while turning the Senate into the world’s least deliberative body. Next Tuesday’s vote is above all a referendum on whether the Senate will spend two more years in this Obama-Reid dead zone.
Start with the unlikely way some of them won election in 2008. Alaska Democrat Mark Begich barely beat Ted Stevens after Justice Department lawyers withheld exculpatory evidence in a corruption case against him. A jury found Stevens guilty eight days before the election. Mr. Begich won by 47.8% to 46.5% on false pretenses and deserves defeat now on those grounds alone.
But there’s also his record, or lack of one, including the startling fact that he has never been allowed a roll-call vote on an amendment he has offered. Not once in six years. This is because Mr. Reid has deliberately blocked the normal flow of Senate debate so Democrats won’t have a voting record that folks at home might notice.
Or take Minnesota’s Al Franken, who trailed Republican Norm Coleman on Election Day but strong-armed a legal challenge to win the recount by 312 votes. He then became the 60th vote for ObamaCare, and now he is running for re-election by claiming he wants to repeal the law’s medical devices tax that is unpopular in Minnesota. Too bad Mr. Reid has blocked a binding vote on repeal so Mr. Franken and other Democrats can claim to favor repeal without having to do it.
Then there’s Jeanne Shaheen, the New Hampshire Democrat who won in 2008 by opposing the war in Iraq and embracing all things Obama. She too was the decisive vote for ObamaCare. Now she too claims to want to fix it, not that she has succeeded in getting a vote to do so.
Amid the health-care rollout in February, Ms. Shaheen said “I think we need to fix the things that are not working, and that’s what I am committed to.” But by Oct. 22 she had backtracked to proposing merely “an independent CEO and advisory committee that would oversee the health-care website, because we saw some issues with the rollout of the website.” Translation: If she wins, she’ll do whatever Mr. Obama asks.
We could continue down the list: Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Udall of Colorado. They are all Mr. Obama’s children and Mr. Reid’s lieutenants.
In the media’s telling, gridlock in Washington is due to tea party pressure on House Republicans to resist Mr. Obama’s agenda. There is some of that, reflecting different views of government. But at least the House debates and votes in plain sight. Mr. Reid won’t allow the normal give and take of democratic voting and accountability that is the reason to have a legislature.
The Reid shutdown runs even to the core legislative function of funding the government. The House has passed seven of 12 annual appropriations bills, most with big bipartisan majorities. Chairman Barbara Mikulski has passed eight of the 12 out of her Senate Appropriations Committee, and Republicans wanted to debate. Mr. Reid blocked a floor vote on every one.
The GOP has wanted to put Democrats on record on Mr. Obama’s regulatory overreach, such as targeting coal for extinction, or on the Administration’s refusal to fast-track approval for natural gas exports that might help Europe become less dependent on Vladimir Putin . No votes allowed.
Wyoming Republican John Barrasso kept a running tally of Mr. Reid’s amendment blockade through July. In the previous 12 months Senators introduced 1,952 amendments—1,105 from Republicans and 847 from Democrats. Mr. Reid blocked all but 19.
Legislation? Mr. Reid has blocked at least 10 bills sent to him by the House that passed with notable bipartisan support. Some 35 House Democrats voted with Republicans to delay ObamaCare’s employer mandate; 46 Democrats voted to expedite the approval of liquefied natural gas exports; 130 Democrats voted for patent-reform legislation; 158 Democrats voted to expand access to charter schools; and 183 Democrats voted (in a bill that passed 406-1) to exempt certain veterans from the ObamaCare employer mandate. Mr. Reid’s response: No debate, no vote.
As the election nears, many voters are asking if a Republican Senate would make a difference. The Beltway media line is that it wouldn’t, which ignores that Mr. Reid’s tactics are an historic aberration. How could the Senate possibly be any worse? Mr. Obama would retain his veto against legislation passed by a Republican House and Senate, but at least the legislators would have to vote and be accountable. At least Congress would again resemble a democracy.