JONATHAN COHN DECEMBER 9, 2010
Democrats in the 111th Congress still have an unfinished agenda. Republicans, quite sensibly, are using the clock as a weapon; at this point of the session, even a filibuster that doesn’t have the votes to block cloture can still be enough to derail something. What weapons does the majority have to fight stalling? Well, there’s one big one that Harry Reid should be at least threatening, and if necessary invoking: he can add more hours for the Senate to work its will.
He has already scheduled a Saturday session last week, and he has already said that, like last year, he’ll go up to Christmas. Not good enough! If Democrats can make use of the weekends, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and even the remaining hours after New Year’s Day, well, Senate (and House, if needed) Democrats owe it to the people who worked hard to elect them to, well, race through the finish line.
Regular readers know I’m no Congress-basher, and generally I will defend the schedule that Members of Congress keep. But this isn’t about a legitimate alternate use of time; there’s no better use of the remaining hours of Democratic unified control of government—an opportunity that for all they know may not show up again for decades—than to stay in Washington and, to the extent it’s possible, get things done.
Democrats should not ask the impossible; if the votes aren’t there, Harry Reid and his 58 Democrats can’t do anything about it (beyond threatening to unilaterally suspend the filibuster, but that’s another story). However, where they do have the votes, they can’t let the clock beat them when it’s their choice, up until their term of office formally ends, whether to keep the clock running or not.
Harry Reid is certainly a fighter, and I think he’s done a lot of impressive things as Senate Majority Leader. People undervalue how hard it must have been to keep all 60 in line for health care reform last December, and Reid, in my view, deserves quite a bit of the credit for that. But there have also been times when he’s not shown an ability to be creative and push the boundaries of typical Senate practices when those things seem necessary to combat Republican violations of Senate norms. If they leave DADT repeal, or New Start, or even a single district judge on the table because they won’t make the hours to get it done available, it’ll be a serious mistake.