Wednesday, August 11, 2010

For All His Talk of Bipartisanship, Alexander Chooses Obstructionism in Senate

Posted by on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 7:28 AM

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Lamar Alexander stars in one of the series of recent articles on our dysfunctional Senate and what we should do to fix it. In the New Yorker, he complains about the lack of bipartisan spirit. He talks about one Republican lunch during which Kentucky's cantankerous Sen. Jim Bunning called Harry Reid an idiot. “At least he had the courtesy to do it behind closed doors,” Alexander jokes, adding, “We spend most of our time in team meetings deciding what we’re going to do to each other.”

Alexander points fingers here and there. The Senate's proliferating staffers often are young ideologues and they push their bosses to extremes, he says. And he says too many senators now come from the House rather than governorships where they supposedly would learn how to work with others. Alexander even faults the media for covering Washington like a prize fight. That's causing “this instant radicalizing of positions to the left and the right,” he says.

But when it comes to the obvious solution for Senate inaction—that is, changing the chamber's antique rules to curtail filibusters and secret holds on legislation and confirmations—Alexander is against doing anything. He calls for bipartisan cooperation and problem-solving, but he chooses obstructionism for partisan gain.

“They’ll get over it,” Alexander said of the Democrats’ enthusiasm for rules reform. “And they’ll get over it quicker if they’re in the minority next January. Because they’ll instantly see the value of slowing the Senate down to consider whatever they have to say.” He added that the Senate “may be getting done about as much as the American people want done.”

The President’s ambitious agenda, after all, has upset a lot of voters, across the political spectrum. None of the Republicans I spoke to agreed with the contention that the Senate is “broken.” Alexander claimed that he and other Republicans were exercising the moderating, thoughtful influence on legislation that the founders wanted in the Senate. “The Senate wasn’t created to be efficient,” he argued. “It was created to be inefficient.”

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