The reasons for the ‘failure’ are clear

The Washington Post ran a piece yesterday on how the Senate has “become a chamber of failure.” Somehow, the article neglected to mention the word “filibuster.”

Instead, as James Fallows noted, the article reinforced the notion that “partisanship and extremism ‘on both sides’ was bogging the Senate down.” Here’s an excerpt from the Post‘s article:

The Senate’s top two leaders [Reid and McConnell] have spent the past nine months trying to trick, trap, embarrass and out-maneuver each other. Each is hoping to force the other into a mistake that will burden him and his party with a greater share of the public blame.

On Tuesday, as usual, it was hard to tell whether anyone was winning. [emphasis added]

Except, as Fallows noted, it’s not hard to tell at all.

Since Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley and the end of the Democrats’ 60-vote majority, Mitch McConnell has flat-out won, and (in my view) the prospects of doing even routine public business have lost, by making the requirement for 60 votes for anything seem normal rather than exceptional. And by eventually leading our major media to present this situation as an “everyone’s to blame” unfortunate and inexplicable snafu, rather than an intended exercise of political power by one side.

This isn’t, by the way, a subjective matter. Here’s a chart Brian Beutler put together last December, showing the explosion in the number of filibusters. (It’s a little tough to read; click on it for a bigger view.)

The Senate keeps an updated table, charting cloture votes by Congress over the last nine decades, using three metrics: (1) cloture motions filed (when the majority begins to end a filibuster); (2) votes on cloture (when the majority tries to end a filibuster); and (3) the number of times cloture was invoked (when the majority succeeds in ending a filibuster). By all three measures, obstructionism soared as Republican abused the rules like no party in American history.

Consider this tidbit: cloture was invoked 63 times in 2009 and 2010, which isn’t just the most ever, it’s more than the sum total of instances from 1919 through 1982. That’s not a typo.

There are still some in the political world, including many reporters, who think that the status quo is just normal operating procedure for the institution. That’s not even close to being accurate. The Senate wasn’t designed to work this way; it didn’t use to work this way; and it can’t work this way.

As Fallows explained: “To make it clear: requiring 60 votes for everything is new, and it is overwhelmingly a Republican tactic.”

It’s worthwhile for media outlets to talk about the fact that the Senate has “become a chamber of failure.” But to fail to explain why, and to refuse to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions, is to leave news consumers with an incomplete picture.