WASHINGTON – Senator Tom Udall urged his colleagues on Tuesday to kill the legislative obstruction he said helped turn the Senate into a “graveyard for progress,” using his farewell speech to point out a state of dysfunction in the Congress that had become painfully obvious to almost everyone listening to.
“I’m not the first to say this in a farewell speech, and I won’t be the last, but the Senate is broken,” New Mexico Democrat Mr. Udall said Tuesday in what is probably his last speech. after 12 years in the deeply divided institution.
“The Senate is broken,” he repeated to insist.
For months, Americans have watched angrily as Congress remains mired in partisan paralysis in the face of increased relief from the pandemic, which allowed unemployment benefits to disappear as many suffered from unemployment. Fewer people approve of the work of lawmakers in Washington than at almost any time in recent history. And government watchdog group Common Cause ranked the current Congress as “the least productive in history,” noting that only about 1% of bills introduced have become law.
Mr Udall underscored this dysfunctional state of affairs on the ground, calling on senators to clear the legislative obstruction – which effectively requires a supermajority of 60 votes to move any major legislation forward – and to change a culture that he said values partisanship before the best interests of the country.
Mr Udall was the second Senator in two weeks to use his farewell speech to express his disgust at the current state of the chamber under the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Majority Leader, and his Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. . The two men often use the best part of their speeches at the start of floor sessions by taking blows at others, when few bipartisan deals are made.
Mr. McConnell’s friend Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee, who is retiring after 18 years, described the Senate last week as “like joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being able to sing.”
“It’s a real waste of talent,” said Alexander.
In recent months, Congress has failed to pass an infrastructure package, despite widespread support for such a plan, nor to unite around proposals for police changes, despite bills proposed by both. parties with a troubled nation after police killings of unarmed black Americans. The deadlock on a new stimulus package – with negotiators intending to play hard rather than compromise – has been a constant source of frustration.
In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of senators have tried to change the dynamics and create a new, more centrist center of power in Washington, proposing a compromise stimulus package to try to break the deadlock. And there were flashes of momentum on Tuesday after months of deadlock as lawmakers and the White House redoubled their efforts to get things done before the holidays.
But the general lack of legislation has raised serious questions about whether Congress can still function and whether President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be able to implement any of its political agendas.
Mr. Udall, a former New Mexico attorney general and a member of a legendary Western political family, said he attributed much of the state’s responsibility for the Senate to filibuster, while others, like Mr. Alexander, argue that it is just the culture of the place that needs to change, not the rules.
In an interview with the New York Times last week, Mr Udall explained why he saw the 60-vote threshold as an obstacle to finding answers to existential problems of the day, such as climate change.
“Systematic obstruction was born of a historic accident,” he told the Senate on Tuesday. “The reality of systematic obstruction is paralysis – deep paralysis.”
Supporters of eliminating filibuster have proposed changing Senate rules so that legislation can pass with a simple majority vote of 51. Should Democrats win the two Senate seats up for grabs in the election? January’s election in Georgia – thus gaining control of the chamber – ending the legislative obstruction would allow Mr. Biden to bypass the Republican opposition and push through his political priorities.
Under current rules, the majority leader unilaterally chooses which measures are put to a vote, a process that has resulted in the confirmation of more than 200 conservative judges appointed by President Trump while more than 400 bills, including many progressive House proposals, languish.
Udall also lamented the state of US politics, calling the country’s campaign finance system “out of control.”
“Secret money is flooding campaigns to buy influence, instead of letting voters speak,” he said. “Voting rights are threatened. We can do our best to be good people in a system like this, but it’s no surprise that America’s confidence in government is waning. These structures are undemocratic. They reward extremism. They punish compromise.
After Mr. Udall finished speaking, Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, said the Senate would be wise to listen to his advice. Mr. Merkley, like Mr. Udall, said he was in favor of maintaining a “filibuster” in which a senator can slow down a piece of legislation he or she opposes, but must do so by continuing. to speak in the field.
Mr Udall “cares about the function of this organ and has shared with us idea after idea on how we could improve it – ideas that we should still work to consider in the months and years to come,” said Mr Merkley said.
Shortly after Mr Udall finished his remarks, Mr McConnell and Mr Schumer fought against each other in relaunch talks. Mr McConnell called Democrats “a wholly owned subsidiary of the plaintiff’s bar”, while Mr Schumer accused Mr McConnell of “sabotaging bipartisan negotiations in good faith”.
Without a deal, unemployment benefits for the self-employed and the long-term unemployed as well as eviction protections will expire after Christmas.