A man responsible for much of what is wrong with government in America today. He may not hold all the responsiblity but he surer as hell has been a primary driver of a failing system.
Mitch McConnell is winning, yet again.
Senate Republicans are reportedly close to voting on a bill that would repeal Obamacare and potentially strip insurance from millions of Americans. Under normal circumstances, this sort of momentous legislation would have been dominating the news cycle for weeks. Instead, it’s been virtually absent from broadcast news and become a C-level subplot on cable, thanks to McConnell’s tactically ingenious decision to skip the normal committee process and craft his party’s bill behind closed doors, before rushing it to a floor vote, likely next week. Without a public process, journalists just haven’t had much to cover—and voters haven’t been able to grok what’s at stake.
Of course, the mere fact that Republicans have decided to produce a health care bill largely in secret is itself a scandal. But unfortunately, it’s also a political process story involving arcane-sounding concepts like reconciliation and conference committees. And if there’s one thing most Americans and CNN producers are evidently indifferent to, it’s political process.
That, more than anything, is the secret to McConnell’s success as a congressional leader. Over the years he has masterfully twisted the rules of Senate procedure to the GOP’s advantage by breaking Washington norms that voters fundamentally don’t think or care much about, in part because they make for dry copy and soporific television. Our national aversion to process stories helped the Kentuckian gum up President Obama’s political agenda and deny him a Supreme Court appointment. And now it may allow him to pass a health care bill by stealth.
Before he ascended to the Senate’s upper rungs, Mitch McConnell’s political biography as a rigidly partisan fundraising obsessive did not mark him as a man who’d change history. But as minority leader, he proved himself a brilliant political strategist and tactician by waging an all-out war of resistance against President Obama, largely by using a record number of Senate filibusters in order to slow down business on Capitol Hill and jam up the administration’s nominees. As Norm Ornstein wrote for National Journal, “The rule had not changed, but the norms were blown up. Filibusters were used not simply to block legislation or occasional nominations, but routinely, even on matters and nominations that were entirely uncontroversial and ultimately passed unanimously or near-unanimously.”
Weaponizing the filibuster and denying the president bipartisan cover turned out to be extremely savvy, because relatively few Americans care much about the nuances of congressional procedure, and the public is generally apt to blame the president’s party for its frustrations (as Obama’s approval ratings at the time showed). During the heat of the health care debate in 2010, for instance, Pew found that only 26 percent of Americans knew it took 60 votes to end debate in the Senate. And insofar as people were frustrated by Congress, they may not have understood which party to be angry at; in the run-up to the 2014 midterms, for instance, Rasmussen found that more than one-third of likely voters were in the dark about which party controlled the House and Senate. (Among all Americans, just 38 percent knew who was in power on the Hill, according to the Annenberg Public Policy center.)
Suffice to say, it’s a bit easier to grind a chamber of Congress to a halt or frustrate a president when a sizable portion of the voting public has no idea what you’re doing—or how. You just have to be willing to do it.
More BELOW THE FOLD.