For Times Reporters, Liberal Legislative Failures Mean Government Is 'Dysfunctional' and Paralyzed

The nation's capital is paralyzed and ungovernable when it can't pass enough sufficiently liberal legislation, according to Times reporters. It's a theme running through several stories, like Adam Nagourney's February 16 piece. Nagourney led not with bad news for Democrats - the shock retirement of popular Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana - but instead the sad fact of Congress's "unyielding partisanship."

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana announced on Monday that he would not seek re-election, sending a wave of distress over his fellow Democrats and focusing new attention on the view that unyielding partisanship had left Congress all but paralyzed.

(Was the Times so concerned about legislative paralysis back in 1995, when it was the Democratic minority in Congress working with Bill Clinton to block Republican legislation?)

Reporter Carl Hulse's "Congressional Memo" on Saturday made that same assumption: Since liberals haven't gotten all they've wanted out of a Congress with strong Democratic majorities (though they've gotten plenty this term), perhaps something is "dysfunctional" about Congress, with stubborn Republicans to blame: "Change Comes Quickly to a Place That Doesn't Care for It."

When Carte P. Goodwin strode on to the floor to join the Senate this week, the young West Virginia Democrat was more than the 60th vote to break a stubborn impasse over unemployment pay. He was also the symbol of the unsettled nature of an institution that for all its stately decorum is in severe turmoil.

The nasty and prolonged brawl over extended unemployment benefits - formerly a popular, consensus issue - and the jettisoning this week of a climate change bill were just the latest manifestations of the near paralysis that has infected the Senate despite the Democrats' control of 59 votes. Democrats have scored notable victories on issues such as health care and new Wall Street regulation, but it has been what lawmakers call a very heavy lift.

Hulse also talked about the problems of turnover through departures, resignations and the deaths of two "bona fide Congressional legends" (in the minds of Democrats, anyway):

And the losses through death were not those of ordinary senators - the deceased were Edward M. Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd (whom Mr. Goodwin replaced), the two most senior members of the Senate, bona fide Congressional legends and power brokers who seemed almost a permanent part of the Senate itself. Their passing could not help but create a sense of imbalance.

This next sentence on "Senate civility" is ironic, coming immediately after a paragraph praising Kennedy as a "master deal maker." Does Hulse not remember Kennedy's oh-so-"civil" condemnation of Supreme Court nominee "Robert Bork's America," where "women would be forced into back-alley abortions" and "blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters"?

Others think some of the storied Senate civility has disappeared, citing the recently broken impasse over the unemployment pay as an example. With Mr. Byrd's death at the end of June, Democrats found themselves one vote short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. Though they knew defeat was inevitable, Republicans were not about to budge, forcing Democrats to wait until Mr. Goodwin was appointed and sworn in to break the logjam.

"Maybe I am over-romanticizing," said Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat elected in 2008, "but from what I have heard about the Senate in the past when comity reigned, somebody on the Republican side, after Senator Byrd's death, would have voted the way Senator Byrd would have."

Only very late in the piece did Hulse relate Republican complaints of Senate Democrats "overreaching on a broad swath of issues and by trying to ram legislation down the throat of the minority and a skeptical public."