A rather remarkable thing happened on the Senate floor yesterday. Kentucky Senator and former Tootsie Pop spokesman Mitch McConnell came to the floor to ask for a vote on raising the debt ceiling. This type of vote isn’t new – the federal debt limit has been raised 106 times since 1940, 18 times under Ronald Regan, and 7 times under George W Bush (source: White House Office of Budget and Management). The fact that it needed to be raised isn’t very remarkable either, as the Senate has repeatedly proven. It was even boring to see McConnell grandstanding and playing chicken with the debt ceiling for a political power play. What was remarkable was how badly it blew up in his face. You see, the Senate majority leader Harry Reid called him on his little game of chicken, and McConnell was forced to either filibuster against his own bill, or back down. Here is the link to the video, or simply watch below:
Such a proud moment for America, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Now, I’m a bit of an oldie, and a political junkie, so I can remember when a filibuster meant something. I remember when New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato filibustered for nearly a full day concerning a military bill in 1986. And in the early 80’s, there was even a filibuster over the debt ceiling being raised, led by William Proxmire of Wisconsin. Filibusters are a necessary part of the political process, and even when used for evil (such as Strom Thurmond filibustering against the Civil Rights Act of 1957), they still have place in the discourse of the Senate.
So why is this such a low point for Capitol Hill, and the GOP? It all leads back, ironically, to McConnell and his now infamous quote in the National Journal on October 23, 2010 – “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The GOP can no longer hide behind mercurial, abstract rules when they try to obstruct the President, and by extension, the nation. McConnell’s massive mis-step yesterday proved that. They either have to publicly embrace the fact that they attempted to play chicken with the United States of America, or change course and actually attempt to get something done. Not only will McConnell’s blunder serve as fodder for the Left, it will also serve as the touchstone as why filibuster reform is so desperately needed.
Perhaps this is all a good thing. There is the school of thought that states you can’t turn your life around till you’ve hit rock bottom. Maybe this was the wake up call that the GOP desperately needed. Somehow, though, I doubt McConnell will have a moment of clarity. Ah well. At least the American public will be reminded of this moment, over and over, in the run up to 2014. Enjoy the mid-term elections, Mr. McConnell.