Struggling to explain the Senate

STRUGGLING TO EXPLAIN THE SENATE…. Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) surprised much of the political world yesterday when he announced that he would not seek re-election this year, prompting a new round of questions about the midterms, momentum, and next year’s Congress.

But in understanding why, exactly, Obey decided to step down, it’s worth noting a remark from his retirement announcement. (via the Wonkbook)

“Frankly, I do not know what I will do next. All I do know is that there has to be more to life than explaining the ridiculous, accountability destroying rules of the Senate to confused, angry, and frustrated constituents.”

Explaining his departure, Obey emphasized, “I am bone tired.” Nearing 72, that’s understandable. But his comment about struggling to try to explain the Senate to angry voters really is the line that warrants special attention.

It must be awfully difficult to explain to constituents why more doesn’t get done in Washington. To be sure, this Congress has achieved a great deal — arguably far more than it gets credit for, in the midst of crises and scandalous GOP obstructionism — but much of the public still believes institutional dysfunction stands in the way of additional progress, and that belief is well founded.

But voters in general don’t know or care about Senate procedure — filibusters, cloture votes, and secret holds are obscure minutiae to most — and haven’t the foggiest idea that Republican tactics have made governing needlessly arduous.

Of course, the solution seems to be reforming how the dysfunctional Senate works, not driving good lawmakers out of Congress in frustration.