There’s no need to obscure obstructionism

The home page of the New York Times reported on Senate Republicans killing the American Jobs Act with this headline: “Obama’s Jobs Bill Fails in Senate in First Legislative Test.” The subhead read: “The vote of 50 to 49 to open debate on the measure was 10 votes short of the 60 needed to overcome procedural objections, forcing the White House to consider breaking up the package.”

There were no references to Republicans, the GOP, or obstructionism. A casual reader might not even realize that a majority of the Senate actually supported advancing the bill.

James Fallows sees a problem with this.

We have gone so far in recent years toward routinizing the once-rare requirement for a 60-vote Senate “supermajority” into an obstacle for every nomination and every bill that our leading newspaper can say that a measure “fails” when it gets more Yes than No votes. […]

Again, the subhead and story make the real situation clear. So how about a headline that says plainly what happened: “Obama’s Job Bill Blocked by GOP in Procedural Move”

It would fit. And it would help offset the mounting mis-impression that the Constitution dictates a 60-vote margin for getting anything done.

Quite right. It seems that much of the political establishment sees the current breakdown of the American political process as somehow routine — Republicans block Democratic plans; Dems block Republican plans; this is just how the game is played.

Except it’s not. The legislative branch wasn’t designed to work this way, and for generations, it didn’t. Mandatory super-majorities to even have a debate on an important piece of legislation is wholly at odds with American norms and institutional practices. The Senate used to go decades without a cloture vote — now Republicans impose multiple filibusters on nearly every piece of legislation.

As Eric Boehlert put it a while back, “The Beltway press has mostly turned a blind, non-judgmental eye while the GOP has re-written the rules for governing from the minority. Yes, the press covers many of the votes that Republicans stymie. But there’s little or no media debate about what the Republican Party is actually doing, which is practicing obstructionism on a massive and previously unseen scale.”

The public almost certainly has no idea that this is happening, in large part because the media treats the status quo as a normal way of operating, rather than an unprecedented abuse that undermines American policymaking at a fundamental level.