Has a Shakeup Started in Washington?

Has a Shakeup Started in Washington?

All of a sudden, things are getting weird in Washington, DC. We’ve all gotten used to nothing coming out of government but a whole lot of obstructionism and big talk, because that’s basically all we’ve gotten for the better part of a year. Health care reform: fail. Real banking reform: fail. The Democrats’ ability to use their 60-vote majority in the Senate to pass important pieces of legislation: epic fail.

Nobody was really happy about it, according to every poll on the planet, but it started to feel like yelling at a rainstorm. Curse the clouds all you want, but you’re getting wet regardless, right? We have all been steeping like tea bags in frustration and inaction, and only a few days ago it seemed pretty clear that we were in for more of the same to come. All that suddenly went sideways this week, however, when an outburst of forward motion from some very odd quarters threatens to shake up the ossified processes of this government.

Press play to listen to author William Rivers Pitt read his column, “Has a Shakeup Started in Washington?”:

Press play to listen to author William Rivers Pitt read his column, “Has a Shakeup Started in Washington?”:

First came word of an unlikely champion stepping forward to lead the effort to repeal the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bars LGBT citizens from serving openly in the military: Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Surprisingly enough, Lieberman has a fairly good voting record on gay rights, earning an 88 out of 100 rating by the Human Rights Campaign. He has co-sponsored bills like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act.

However, Joe being Joe means he also voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and voted in favor of the very same “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy he now takes issue with, but that’s par for the course with him. If Joe Lieberman called a press conference to announce that water is wet, millions of Americans would immediately leap into their showers to make sure he wasn’t lying again. Lieberman has proven himself to be astonishingly less than trustworthy, especially lately, but if he actually follows through on this and helps eliminate nearly two decades of discrimination, he will deserve whatever praise he is given.

At about the same time, another Northeastern senator was blowing up the status quo from the other side of the aisle. Scott Brown, the newly minted GOP senator from Massachusetts, who became the darling of the Right by defeating Attorney General Martha Coakley in the race to replace the late Ted Kennedy, broke ranks with his party and sided with the Democrats on President Obama’s $15 billion jobs bill. In doing so, Brown kicked open what passes these days for the floodgates; after his announcement that he would be voting in favor of cloture on the bill, four other Republican senators joined him, ensuring the bill would not be submarined by the inevitable GOP filibuster. According to a report in Tuesday’s Boston Globe:

In one of his first actions in the chamber, the freshman Bay State Republican joined four of his GOP colleagues in deciding to end debate on the $15 billion bill, allowing the Senate to avoid a filibuster and move ahead to a final vote, which requires a simple majority. The tally was 62 to 30.

The support by Brown and other GOP lawmakers could represent a critical psychological break for the Senate, which has been mired in bitter partisan fights over everything from the massive health care package to uncontroversial presidential nominations.

“I think he and I are going to do a lot of music together,” said Sen. George V. Voinovich, a moderate Ohio Republican who also voted to advance the jobs package.

“I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside, and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families,” Brown said in a statement explaining his vote. “All of us, Republicans and Democrats, have to work together to get our economy back on track. I hope my vote today is a strong step toward restoring bipartisanship in Washington.”

Brown said the bill, which would give a break on Social Security taxes to employers who hire the jobless, is “not perfect.” But “I voted for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work,” he said.

Brown’s dash across the aisle should come as no surprise, given his political position. He may have won himself the love and adoration of Tea Partiers – the whole Republican Party, really – by humiliating the Democrats with his victory earlier this year, but the fact remains that he is not at all secure in his seat. He has to run again in 2012, and while Massachusetts voters may have embraced him in the face of Coakley’s pathetic campaign, they are still Massachusetts voters, and will send him packing if he plays too much Ken to Palin’s Barbie.

For the next two years, anyway, the Democrats may have themselves a reliable Republican vote on issues that resonate with those Massachusetts voters, and a jobs bill certainly makes the list. Odds are good this won’t be the last time we see Brown reach out to the majority. His already-underway re-election effort will depend on it.

And, P.S., boy o boy, are the right-wingers and Tea Baggers ever mad at him. The “@ScottBrownMA” page on Twitter detonated with furious comments after the announcement that Brown would vote for cloture on the jobs bill. “Why in the Name of God did you further enslave my children & yours yesterday by TRUSTING a Dem Jobs Bill? What were u thinking?” wrote one woman. “You cannot have ‘bipartisanship’ with progressives who are destroying our republic,” wrote another. Still another leveled the strongest online punishment available by stating, “Just unfollowed and blocked @ScottBrownMA like I would a common troll.”


As this twin-bill feature was unfolding, a voice was heard from the Land Of The Lost that sounded suspiciously like the return of Obama’s health care reform push. This time, however, the president and his advisers appeared to be coming with a baseball bat instead of the oft-proffered, never-accepted hand of bipartisanship. According to the Globe:

President Obama launched a final drive for a sweeping health care overhaul yesterday, offering a proposal that the White House hopes will help unite squabbling Democrats and, if necessary, could be used to bypass Republicans altogether.

Representing the first full-fledged health care plan offered by the president, the proposal was part of a two-track White House strategy: demonstrate a willingness to compromise across the aisle at a health care summit set for Thursday, but, at the same time, have a plan ready that might pass the Senate over GOP objections.

The president’s plan retains most of the major elements of a bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve, including an expansion of insurance to cover 30 million Americans who lack insurance, government subsidies to help them afford it, and a combination of new taxes and spending reductions to cover the $950 billion price tag.

White House officials said yesterday that the president’s proposal was crafted to allow it to pass without any Republican votes, if necessary, using a process called “reconciliation,” which lets the Senate bypass a filibuster and adopt legislation by a simple majority of 51 votes, as long as each provision affects federal revenue.

For many on the Left, “The president’s plan retains most of the major elements of a bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve” is code for “Pretty much the same crappy half-a-loaf bill that got stomped to death earlier this winter.” That assumption, however, may be upended from another unlikely quarter. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, whose name could be changed to “Harry The Inert” after his anemic leadership of the majority to date, appears poised to use the same reconciliation process the White House is preparing to deploy as a means of passing an actual public option in the health care reform process.

“Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced on Friday afternoon that he would work with other Democrats and the White House to pass a public option through reconciliation if that’s the legislative path the party chooses,” reported the Huffington Post. “This represents a major breakthrough for those Senators and activists who are pushing to get a public option considered via an up or down vote.” Passing any sort of actual health care reform, with or without the inclusion of a public option, is still far from certain. It is refreshing, though, to see actual movement on this front, not to mention on the jobs bill and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

And perhaps, just perhaps, this could just be the beginning. According to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives has passed some 290 pieces of legislation that have stalled out in the Senate, much to the exasperation of House Democrats. According to a report by The Hill, “The list of stalled bills includes both major and minor legislation: health care reform; climate change; food safety; financial aid for the US Postal Service; a job security act for wounded veterans; a Civil War battlefield preservation act; vision care for children; the naming of a federal courthouse in Iowa after former Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa); a National Historic Park named for President Jimmy Carter; a bill to improve absentee ballot voting; a bill to improve cybersecurity; and the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.”

Don’t hold your breath, but still, it’s interesting. This could be the beginning of something long, long overdue.