Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gathered the votes necessary this week to push the so-called nuclear option forward—nominees coming from the president’s desk would only need a simple majority, that is, fifty votes, rather than the traditional sixty votes needed to overcome cloture. This seemingly small change in parliamentary procedure has sparked huge outrage among members of Congress, with Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, warning that “you may regret this a lot sooner than you think”.
According to Sen. Mike Johanns from Nebraska, “[Reid] knows he’s got seats at play, and he can lose control of the Senate—it’s about power. I just think between now and next November, there will be a lot of message voting—that’s about it.”
Both of McConnell and Johanns’ statements indicate a common thought process among the current Republican minority—the Democrats have resorted to this option of last resort in order to completely stampede over the Republicans in an effort to vote on issues (although this rule only applies so far to the president’s nominees and not actual legislation).
Disclaimer: I am a liberal, although not registered with any party, and I tend to favor the Democrats over the Republicans while voting. But in this particular instance, to simply dismiss the Republicans’ claims about the Democrats would be too easy. The Democrats are looking for reelection again and thus, their votes are going to be, to some extent, always going to be about posturing for election again. The Democrats might be painting themselves in the media as the sane ones in the debate, the ones who want the government to be functioning, but even if they want the government to be functioning, it’s not necessarily for altruistic reasons. Just as the Republicans want to stall government because that’s what their constituents want, the Democrats look to 2014 and want to boost their chances for election.
Current approval ratings of Congress are at a record low—at about nine percent among all adults. Notably, in the latest Gallup poll relating to Congress, Democrats’ approval rating of Congress dipped dramatically, from twenty percent in September 2013 to five percent in October 2013. Independents saw a similar, if not quite so dramatic dip, from nineteen percent to thirteen percent. The only difference between the two months? The government shutdown occurred, and Democrats and independents saw the locked condition of Congress and detested it.
In terms of elections, Democratic senators, looking to keep their seats, will be looking towards their Democratic base voters and independents (Republicans will always vote for Republicans, so they might as well not exist to a Democratic senator). So these Democratic senators want to see maximum turnout among the Democratic base to support them, the incumbents, and they want to see independents approve of Congress as a whole. Since Democrats are in control of the Senate at the moment, a functioning Senate will reflect well on the Democrats, and independents will be less likely to vote out an incumbent.
This latest Gallup poll indicates that independents and Democrats both value a Senate that is moving along. So however cynical and bitter Johanns and McConnell may sound, they might have a point. But then again, all of politics in DC is about being reelected again and accumulating more power through seniority. With twenty Democratic senators being up for election in 2014, in contrast to thirteen Republican senators, Harry Reid has a significant desire to see his Democratic senators reelected in order to maintain his position as the House Majority Leader.