Too often -- the way it's played and the way it's reported -- Americans might think everything that happens in Washington is a game.
But look, this is anything but a game. The business before the Senate is literally life and death on many issues, and the parliamentary tricks to delay and obstruct the basic workings of our government have real-world consequences.
What am I talking about? Start with the latest example: one Senator's effort to delay the votes on some critically-needed legislation for Americans out of work and hurting in our economy.
A lot of people today are clicking on this news story about Senator Bunning.
Political theater? Much more than that. Here's what's at stake: 2000 federal highway workers were furloughed this morning, losing the pay that their families depend on and halting work on critical national infrastructure. Nearly 1.2 million could lose their unemployment benefits without an extension of that program, pulling away a critical financial lifeline.
This has to end.
In the last Congress, the Republican minority more than doubled the previous record for filibusters, and they are on a pace to challenge or surpass that "accomplishment" this Congress as well. And filibusters are only the most obvious part of it. (Talking Points Memo put together a great chart on filibusters which you can see here.)
On issue after issue, votes large and small, the strategy from the GOP at the highest levels has been the same: exploiting every Senate rule, playing every trick to try to slow things down. They put holds on bills that later pass by 90 votes, filibuster things they later vote for, block things they previously proposed. They used the filibuster to shoot down a debt commission that they themselves called on President Obama to implement! They block completely uncontroversial nominees and cause days of delays on the most critical of legislation. They even stalled on money for our troops last year, just to try to delay debate on health care reform.
It doesn't have to be this way. There are good Senators on both sides of the aisle. Last week, five Republican Senators (including Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and I don't care about party label, I call it the way I see it -- Scott cast the right vote for Massachusetts there) joined with Democrats to break a GOP filibuster to pass a jobs bill helping small businesses hire in this tough economy. Senator Lindsay Graham and I are working hard together to develop a bill on energy and global climate change.
But as long as the GOP leadership continues with the scorched-earth campaign, it will be tough to get done the things we know we need to do.
We need this to end. Debate big differences. Disagree. Use the filibuster when big matters of principle hang in the balance -- and sometimes they do. But at the end of the day, Washington has to function -- people are counting on it. When it comes to unemployment insurance for workers who have been laid-off through no fault of their own, stop playing games immediately, allow a vote, and then get to work trying to solve some problems, not playing tricks with the Senate rules. The framers invested the minority with rights to protect the Senate - not to destroy it.
Follow Sen. John Kerry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JohnKerry