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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

A Second Chance to Sideline Mitch McConnell and the Far Right?

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's graceless statement regarding President Barack Obama's reelection, where he stands by the Republicans' "our way or the highway" philosophy of governance, proves that he and his fellow travelers remain as ideologically rigid as ever and have no intention of working with the president during the next four years. Despite the election results that gave a thumping to their brand of anti-government extremism, the ideologues who dominate the GOP are already circling the wagons, promising more gridlock and more obstruction.

In Mitch McConnell's universe, the election of 2012 shows that "the voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president's first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do." He also believes that the American people want President Obama to "work with" the Republicans on their biggest agenda items "to reform the tax code and our broken entitlement system." These are not the words of someone who is indicating willingness to compromise. He therefore must be sidelined. And the only way to do so is to repeal the anachronistic "cloture" rule in the Senate that has allowed his minority to stop Obama's agenda in its tracks.

Ending the filibuster is within the realm of possibility, if only the Democrats had the guts to do it. At the beginning of each new Congress there's an opportunity to change the rules. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that states that the Senate must have a super-majority to pass legislation. It's an arbitrary rule from the horse-and-buggy days that has rendered that legislative body sclerotic and dysfunctional, unfit for the demands of 21st century social reality.

McConnell's statement itself is a shot across the bow reinforcing his earlier primary goal of ensuring that Obama would be a one-term president. Having failed in that endeavor, McConnell now promises the next best thing: Continue to abuse the filibuster as no Senate minority in American history has and gum up the works while demanding total capitulation on Obama's part before any bill can escape the clutches of his icy, deadening hand.

Unless he is stopped, McConnell, the reactionary who knows nothing about "reaching across the aisle," will continue his efforts to kill off the middle class and establish a right-wing ruling oligarchy. He cannot be "compromised" with and any piece of legislation with his fingerprints on it will be a disaster for the country. Any "Grand Bargain" with McConnell and his ilk we now hear Beltway villagers cheerleading for will in reality be a "Grand Betrayal" of every single principle that the American electorate wanted to reestablish when it reelected Obama.

Long before the Democrats took their "shellacking" in the 2010 midterm elections I urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other adults in the Mansfield Room to end the filibuster "and pass a lot of stuff." McConnell and the Republicans' abuse of the "cloture" rule was preventing the nation's governing institutions from functioning while the United States confronted its worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. I, like many others, watched in horror as President Obama, the Democratic Senators and the mainstream news media all blandly accept as a fait accompli that any bill in the Senate, even in a time of crisis and emergency, needed 60 votes to pass. Republican obstructionism was rebranded as a "legitimate" requirement of a super-majority to get anything done. If the tables were reversed and a Democratic minority exploited the filibuster in the way the Republicans have done, we would have heard loud shrieks from our GOP friends that it was "unconstitutional." Yet even the "progressive" politicians in Washington apparently believed that a 60-vote threshold in the Senate was a "new normal." It is nothing of the sort.

Now that Obama has handily won reelection he will be tempted to strike the "Grand Bargain" that only promises to impose an unnecessary and counterproductive austerity regimen on Americans that has already failed miserably in Europe. The massive cuts required and the refusal of the zealots to even think about raising a tax -- even rejecting a "deal" that would impose $10 of cuts for every $1 of new revenue -- is still the status quo from which we begin this new round of "negotiations."

The question now is: Will Obama's reelection and the victory of Democratic Senators, along with the thinning somewhat of the Tea Bagger ranks in the House, lead to a more forceful negotiating stance against the right-wing extremists than we've witnessed in the first term? We'll have to wait and see. Progress in this country will only come if the Mitch McConnells and the Grover Norquists of this world are brushed aside and jobs and work bills, infrastructure spending and environmental regulations passed by doing an end run around their obstructionism. There is no other choice.

As we begin Obama's second term the progressive grassroots forces are going to have to turn up the heat. The pressures he will face from the Beltway insider culture he succumbed to in his first term will be just as strong as ever. He will be tempted to placate the elites by signing a lot of shitty Republican bills that come out of a Congress still dominated by hateful right-wing extremists and deserving of nothing but our contempt.

Think how much better Democrats would have faired in the 2012 election if it weren't for the Supreme Court's odious Citizens United ruling that opened up the floodgates to the corrupting influence of corporate campaign cash.

So now, once again, like the 2009-2011 period, it's up to the progressive left, Obama's forlorn base of unionists and activists who he rediscovered in 2012, to try to hold the president's feet to the fire and make sure that any "Grand Bargain" with the likes of Mitch McConnell does not betray the values and the interests of the people who worked so hard to win him a second term.

Back in the late-1990s, President Bill Clinton signed some of the worst Republican bills of his presidency during his second term, including the ruinous Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Trading Act of 2000, which set the nation up for the financial collapse of 2008.

We mustn't allow a repeat of this dreary history during Obama's second term. The stakes are much higher now, with a severely weakened working class and an even more consolidated oligarchy of too-big-to-fail financial behemoths, and a precarious economic "recovery" that can go down the tubes very quickly with bad policy choices. Any public policy choice that has Mitch McConnell's fingerprints on it is going to be a bad public policy choice. Let's not fall for the Beltway trick where "bipartisanship" is equated with godliness even if the outcome is austerity, a watered-down version of the Paul Ryan budget (and the philosophy behind it), which voters handily rejected. Maybe with good people like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts pointing the way we can end the stultifying Senate filibuster that is being used as a cudgel to beat down the middle class. Let's bypass McConnell's and Norquist's twisted "vision" of America's future and move the country "Forward."

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