Child’s Play

Posted November 11, 2003 at 5:50pm

As long as Republicans and Democrats are playing childish games on the Senate floor instead of finishing grown-up public business, we think they should be sent to the Congressional equivalent of detention. That is, instead of adjourning in a mad rush by Thanksgiving, Congress should stay in Washington — until Christmas, if necessary.

What a spectacle! Instead of debating two major appropriations bills that were on deck on Monday, the Senate listened to a nine-hour filibuster by Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who talked about judges, jobs, health care and veterans and, when he was talked out on those subjects, turned to a book he’d written about his hometown, Searchlight, Nev.

Reid obstructed Senate action to protest another waste of the Senate’s time — the Republican majority’s 30-hour marathon debate, scheduled to begin tonight, to protest the Democrats’ filibustering of several of President Bush’s appellate court nominees. Reid and other Democrats also are furious about what they variously denounce as “amateurishness” and “duplicity” on the part of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) for allegedly not telling Democrats beforehand about the 30-hour stunt and springing it on them only after they had agreed to work on appropriations over Veterans Day.

We, too, disapprove of the Democrats’ decision to use the filibuster — especially on a regular basis — against judicial nominees whose views they disagree with. We cannot say that the filibuster should never be used. Undoubtedly cases may arise when a nominee’s views are so extreme, his or her temperament so unjudicial or his or her character so flawed that such an instrument might be necessary. This isn’t the place to match those criteria to Bush’s rejected nominees, but Democrats have now established a precedent for almost routine use of the filibuster. As we’ve said before, it’s a precedent that will come back to haunt them.

On the other hand, no earthly use is being served by the 30-hour talkfest scheduled by the angry Republicans. The idea, clearly, is to attract public attention to — and try to excite public indignation at — the Democratic filibusters. Is the object to put public pressure on the Democrats and get them to reverse course? Almost certainly, it’s not going to happen. The Democrats are dug in with their argument that Bush is trying to “pack the courts” with right-wingers, and now the atmosphere in the Senate has become so poisoned that a change of policy is impossible. GOP leaders surely know this. Instead, they are playing to their base. But to what end? The 2004 election is still nearly a year away. Surely there will be time next year to arouse the GOP faithful.

In the meantime, there’s work to be done here and now — appropriations bills, a Medicare prescription drug bill and energy legislation. Instead of adjourning, Congress should stay in session until they are done and done well. See you in December.