That’s probably a good thing. Maybe it will strip away some of that self-serving baloney about the collegial Senate and esteemed colleagues and the Senate being the world’s greatest deliberative body. Because if it was ever true, it’s not anymore and perhaps never will be again.
For better or worse, the Republicans have forced that change. The modern GOP has adopted a strictly parliamentary approach to important legislation, voting as a bloc and sternly enforcing party discipline to a degree unknown in recent American history. In the House, for example, Republicans voted 176-1 against health-insurance reform. In the Senate, the final vote will be 40-0 against reform. There can be no deliberation or give and take in such an approach; there’s no negotiation or compromise. It is pure power politics, and events of the last few weeks may have finally enlightened congressional Democrats about what that really means.
If so, that enlightenment has been a long time coming. Back in 1993, no Republican in either the House or Senate voted to support a tax-increase package that President Clinton said was needed to cut the deficit and restore fiscal confidence. Republican congressional leaders predicted economic calamity as a result of the tax hike on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Newt Gingrich, to cite just one example, claimed the bill would lead to a recession and increase the deficit.
Instead, the economy took off and the federal budget was balanced a few years later.
Later, House Speaker Dennis Hastert tried to institutionalize that trend. He had a personal rule against allowing a bill to come to the floor unless it had majority support from within the GOP caucus. In other words, a bill that might pass easily thanks to a coalition of GOP and Democratic votes would not be given a chance to pass unless it first drew a majority of Republicans. The GOP caucus in effect became a Congress inside the Congress.
In the Senate, Republicans have forced the same change on their Democratic colleagues. By refusing to negotiate, the GOP in effect took itself out of play in the health-reform debate and forced the Democratic caucus to negotiate only with itself. They succeeded in drawing a stark line between the two parties on the issue, which some will no doubt count as a success. However, the final package is also more liberal than it would have been had conservatives been willing to compromise.