After Mitch McConnell became Senate Minority Leader in 2007, the yearly total of filibusters doubled . It's now assumed that any legislation over which there is disagreement requires a super-majority of 60 votes to pass.
By crippling the Senate in this way, he has made the legislative process of the federal government mostly dysfunctional. So there is no doubt that Kentucky's senior senator is a very powerful man, for better or for worse.
There is a procedure (often called the "nuclear option") by which a simple majority of 51 senators could overturn the 60-vote requirement. Since the Democrats have 52 senators (and two independents who caucus with them), Democrats could use the nuclear option to break McConnell's stranglehold.
Yet they lack the will to do so, and President Obama hasn't pressed them even though the filibuster has blocked much of his agenda. So you could say that the Democratic senators have chosen to give McConnell his power. They have connived with him to create legislative gridlock. There are two reasons for this:
First, the difficulty of assembling a super-majority magnifies the power of individual senators in both parties. Each individual can drive a harder bargain for their vote and expect richer "inducements" from lobbyists.
This only worsens the already undemocratic nature of the U.S. Senate. Despite huge population differences, each state has two senators. So the senators who drive a hard bargain for adding their votes to a supermajority may come from states with a tiny population compared to other states whose senators strongly support a bill. One of the most infamous examples of this distortion was the " Cornhusker kickback " to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) for his vote on Obamacare. (California has twenty times the population of Nebraska.)
Second, some Democratic senators want to be able to obstruct Republican legislation in case the GOP wins a majority in the Senate in a later election, especially if a Republican wins the presidency in 2016. To preserve this option, they're willing to extend Congressional dysfunction into the indefinite future. Adolescent libertarians may rejoice in this prospect, but the rest of us know that our federal government needs to be able to enact legislation to address a rapidly changing world. That's what Congress is for.
Because members of Congress assume that most legislation dies in the Senate, sponsoring and voting for bills often degenerates into cheap talk and demagoguery, especially for the GOP. For example, two years ago Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced a bill to eliminate the EPA, an agency created by Republican President Nixon. (The bill's 15 co-sponsors were also global warming deniers.)
Would this have happened if there were a chance of passing the bill? Would most Republican lawmakers want to live in an unprotected environment, drinking and breathing a growing list of pollutants and poisons and incurring the wrath of voters over the harmful effects of their legislation?
On May 16 the House voted for the third time to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA aka Obamacare). This was the 37 th time the House had voted to repeal all or part of it--a repetitious tantrum over major legislation the GOP had come so close to obstructing.
Would House Republicans be so eager for total repeal if they thought their bill would pass the Senate? How would their constituents feel when insurance companies resumed denying coverage for preexisting conditions and refusing to renew policies for people who get sick? Would they welcome back those annual and lifetime caps on coverage that leave people one serious illness away from bankruptcy?
The deeply flawed ACA barely managed to get 60 votes in the 2009 Senate just before the Democrats lost their 60-vote majority. In order to get past giant health industry lobbies and McConnell's solid GOP phalanx, the bill had to get every last Senate Democrat's vote. The price was major concessions such as stripping out the public option and failing to negotiate drug prices.
The legislative paralysis created by filibusters can't continue. It's a national embarrassment. For as long as Congress lurches from one crisis to another without settling anything, problems will only get worse and we, as a nation, will lose confidence and self-respect.
Mitch McConnell is Mr. Filibuster--he is the face of this paralysis that threatens our future. Obstruction is his principal contribution to American political life. This may be part of the reason why, according to Public Policy Polling, "Mitch McConnell continues to rank as the most unpopular Senator [within his own state] in the country."
According to the latest PPP poll (4/9/13), 54% of Kentuckians disapprove of his performance, and a mere 36% approve. Yet only 25% of respondents described themselves as "very" or "somewhat liberal." McConnell's 2014 re-election prospects are still good because he runs a fiercely anti-Obama campaign that gets a lot of Kentuckians to hold their noses and vote for him.
McConnell still rages against the ACA. It's really sweet for him that this law is commonly called Obamacare. This lets him merge Obama, the ACA and the federal government into a single demon for Kentuckians to fear and hate. He offers nothing in its place--just a return to the status quo before the ACA.