Sunday, April 25, 2010

Senatorial Snit

The United States Senate is, if you think about it, a really strange part of our government. It has its own rules, many of which are as arcane and stupefying as those of any condo association and about as helpful when it comes to getting anything done. Many of those rules are unwritten, which makes things even more confusing to outsiders. Whether written or not, however, violating those rules is guaranteed to provoke screams of displeasure from the membership.

Although I'm not certain, I suspect that's part of what is behind South Carolina's Sen. Lindsay Graham's current snit. He had been working diligently on an energy bill with Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman and that bill was supposed to be rolled out tomorrow, but Sen. Graham has suddenly backed away from the bill.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Saturday afternoon that they would postpone the introduction of their long-anticipated energy and climate bill, which they had planned to roll out on Monday. The announcement came after their third partner, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, abruptly pulled out of the effort — at least temporarily.

Graham was irate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) unexpectedly told fellow Democrats this week that he planned to move an immigration bill in the Senate before the climate bill, an action widely seen as a nod to Latino voters who could make or break Reid's reelection bid, and which Graham said would cripple the energy bill's chances.

In a scathing letter on Saturday, Graham blasted Reid and the Obama administration for putting "partisan, political objectives" ahead of the energy bill, and he warned that "moving forward on immigration — in this hurried, panicked manner — is nothing more than a cynical political ploy."

Now, to be fair to Sen. Graham, the decision to put immigration reform ahead of the climate bill is indeed a cynical political ploy. The Democrats, especially Sen. Reid, are clearly worried about the November election, as well they should be. One key group of supporters, Latinos, has threatened to stay home on election day because neither the White House nor Congress have made any substantial progress in drafting a bill that was promised by Barack Obama. In several jurisdictions, including Sen. Reid's, that could be disastrous.

That said, however, Sen. Graham has been in the Senate long enough to know that the Majority Leader gets to make this kind of decision. It's in the rules and Majority Leaders, regardless of their political stripe, have been wielding that power for decades.

What is so ironic, however, is that Sen. Graham has also been working on an immigration bill with Sen. Schumer. Is he worried that his efforts on that bill will undercut his efforts on the energy and climate bill? Or is he afraid that his party will come down hard on him (if they haven't already) for working with the enemy so much?

Whatever the reason, his backing off with respect to the energy bill practically guarantees that it will not be passed this year or perhaps ever. This Congress just doesn't multitask that well. And that's a shame.

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